During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, many Long Island families missed out on celebrating their children’s birthdays in traditional ways, resorting to drive-by parties and Zoom gatherings. With the loss of typical celebrations came the realization of how important birthday parties are for kids.
However, for families and displaced youth struggling with homelessness on Long Island, birthday celebrations were never a given. That’s why, for more than 10 years, Birthday Wishes of Long Island has been throwing birthday parties for children living in homeless shelters across Nassau and Suffolk counties.
“Everyone deserves to feel that the day they were born is special and that they matter and that them being on this Earth matters,” says Jamie Rapfogel, director of Birthday Wishes of Long Island.
Birthday Wishes originated in Massachusetts and expanded to Long Island in 2009 after Rapfogel, a social worker, read the first national article written about the organization in Good Housekeeping. The article explained how the group brings birthday parties, complete with decorations, presents, and activities, to homeless children whose parents could not afford to celebrate their birthday. Rapfogel was moved by the piece and wanted to do the same for Long Island children.
In 2019, Birthday Wishes of Long Island brought parties to more than 1,300 children at 88 different shelter homes. However, since the pandemic, volunteers deliver Birthday in a Box kits to the shelters with everything they need to throw their own celebration.
“Money gets tight, and it makes it hard for me to buy them anything,” says Jennifer Owen, a mother of four children and resident at a shelter in Brentwood. “They get to actually have presents to open and be able to enjoy something. It’s something for them to look forward to.”
According to Owen, the parties at the shelter always involved crafts, cupcakes, and recognizing the birthday kids by singing “Happy Birthday” and giving them a badge to wear that says “Birthday Boy” or “Birthday Girl.” She says her two young daughters now enjoy receiving the birthday boxes and seeing what’s in them each year.
Rapfogel notes that local youth enjoy getting involved with Birthday Wishes through its Kids Helping Kids initiative. Helping out can be as simple as donating through the online Amazon wish list or as involved as collecting donations and packing boxes at the Hicksville office.
For more information, visit birthdaywishes.org.