Building normalcy by celebrating birthdays

‘Birthday in a Box’ donation to Lutheran Settlement House making families in transitional housing program feel more at home

Staff at Lutheran Settlement House receive the ‘Birthday in a Box’ donation from Kiwanis staff. PHOTO COURTESY OF EMILY LINDAUER

By Melissa Komar

Although some families served by Lutheran Settlement House might not have a place to call their own yet, thanks to an in-kind donation, they’ll feel more at home this year.

The Fishtown-based nonprofit received an in-kind donation of 15 “Birthday in a Box” packages from Kiwanis, the international service club founded in 1915.

Lutheran Settlement House received the donation in late November.

Families served by the Bilingual Domestic Violence program’s Sheila Brown Women’s Center will receive the boxes throughout the year.

“That program offers a transitional housing opportunity for families who are looking to transition out of the homeless shelter,” said Emily Lindauer, development and communications associate at LSH. “So, we are always looking for ways to make them feel more at home when they’re not in their final home space. We generally get a lot of in-kind donations with items used for some sense of normalcy.”

Contained in the packages were all the fixings for a birthday celebration, including handmade birthday cards, birthday hats, frosting, cake mix, cupcake trays, a stuffed animal for a child, candles and birthday-themed paper plates, napkins and decorations.

“Kiwanis helps kids around the world. Local clubs look out for our communities and the international organization takes on large-scale challenges, such as fighting disease and poverty,” said Chris Ciavarelli, president of the Kiwanis Club of Conshohocken, which made the donation. “Service is at the heart of every Kiwanis Club, no matter where in the world it’s located. Members stage nearly 150,000 service projects and raise nearly $100 million (U.S.) every year for communities, families and projects.”

The Conshohocken club decided to make Birthday Boxes for its most recent service project for children in need within the surrounding community after being inspired by club secretary Lori Tomczak, who is also a preschool teacher at St. Philip Neri School, which recently completed a similar project, according to Ciavarelli.

Staff researched organizations in the area they thought may have a need in receiving the birthday boxes and LSH was one of the organizations.

So far, LSH has given out four of the 15 boxes to families in its program.

Birthday boxes will “be given out when it’s appropriate,” according to Lindauer; LSH will work with case managers to give out boxes whenever a birthday comes up for one of the families.

Making the families feel at home regardless of where they are living is the bottom line.

“The idea with the birthday boxes is even though [the families] may not be in their permanent home, they’re still going to have the experience of having that birthday celebration,” Lindauer said. “We try to establish normalcy and some level of comfort and make sure the people who are in our homeless shelter and transitional housing program feel connected to the life they had pretransition. We just want them to feel safe and comfortable.”

For Kiwanis, being happy is part of that normalcy.

“Our overall hope is to just make a kid happy, to put a smile on their face,” Ciavarelli said. “Birthdays are an important milestone for a child, and should be a happy event. We hope this birthday party in a box does just that, makes a kid smile, who might not be able to on that day. If we do that, mission accomplished.”

Lutheran Settlement House, 1340 Frankford Ave., will spotlight ‘Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month’ during February with facts, events and resources. Visit the Lutheran Settlement House Facebook for updates. The next free community meal will be held on Thursday, Feb. 22, from 5 to 6 p.m. This month’s meal will be tacos and will be prepared by members of the Senior Center.

For details about the Bilingual Domestic Violence, visit lutheransettlement.org. To donate to the Bilingual Domestic Violence program, email Erica Zaveloff at ezaveloff@lshphilly.org.