The routine is familiar but exciting: The lights dim. The cake emerges. And the group begins to sing: Happy birthday to you…
For many students, blowing out candles is a yearly rite of passage — and a chance to imagine all the opportunities a new year can bring. But for other children, the opportunity to make that wish — or have their own birthday party — remains out of reach.
That’s why this school is sharing the bounty. At St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic School in Yardley, students, teachers, and parents all pitch in to create Birthday Boxes filled with party supplies, cake mix, and gifts. The recipients get a chance to celebrate, and St. Ignatius students get to experience the fun of giving.
“The boxes are an exciting way for students to give back,” says Tina Schmidt, the school’s technology and library teacher who leads the program. “It’s something students can easily relate to, because they’re always so happy to celebrate their own birthdays.”
Schmidt first got the idea for the project from Good News, a weekly publication from Pflaum Publishing Group. After implementing Birthday Boxes as a Catholic Schools Week service project at Saint Aloysius Catholic School in Pottstown, she brought the project with her to St. Ignatius, where it’s been a hit for the past eight years.
Each Birthday Box is an exercise in collaboration. Teachers compile lists of birthday supplies for boys and girls of different ages. Parents of students sign up to make contributions. The boxes themselves are donated by Cramer’s Bakery in Yardley. And when all the supplies are compiled, the students get to work.
“I try to get them to imagine how it would feel if your parents couldn’t afford to buy you simple supplies for a party,” Schmidt says. “It makes the students want to help, and it helps them have empathy for children who might not get to have the same experiences we do, unless we all chip in.”
“It makes the students want to help, and it helps them have empathy for children who might not get to have the same experiences we do, unless we all chip in.”
Each homeroom is tasked with decorating boxes for two children — one boy and one girl. The students work together to cover the boxes with drawings of birthday cakes, smiley faces, and encouraging birthday messages.
“It helps students feel like they left their mark,” Schmidt says. “They want the kids who receive it to smile when they see the decorations.”
The school community often contributes more items than will fit in the students’ creations, so Schmidt makes extra boxes herself. This year, the school was able to make a total of 33 boxes with the donated goods.
Once the Birthday Boxes are prepared, students help load them into Schmidt’s van for delivery. She takes them to Catholic Social Services and the Mary’s Cupboard food center in Levittown, where the boxes are distributed to patrons in need.
St. Ignatius participates in several collections, drives, and service projects throughout the year, but Schmidt says Birthday Boxes are a favorite among students and food pantry patrons. In fact, the program’s success has led to a surprise of its own.
“We emailed Plfaum to thank them, since they’re the reason we started this project,” Schmidt says. “They sent me a response saying they would like to write a piece based on our school’s Birthday Box project.”
Schmidt shared the story with her students when it was published — in the November issue of Good News.