“This is not what I had in mind when I started doing this,” says Cristin Warden, Chief Executive Officer of Brighter Birthdays. “I just wanted to make kids smile on their birthday and I wanted a way for my own children to serve others.”
What Cristin started that has grown tremendously in just a year — grown more than she could have ever imagined — was Brighter Birthdays, an organization that collects and distributes bags of games, toys and toiletries to local kids for their birthdays. The kids are often in situations where they might not otherwise get anything on a day that’s supposed to be special.
Cristin started Brighter Birthdays in the 2016-2017 school year. The Christmas before, she was seeing emails from family members and Bible study groups and families who needed help for the holidays. Initially that’s the direction in which she was going to focus her efforts. But then she read about an organization in Dallas, Texas that throws birthday parties for kids whose families can’t afford to.
She partnered first with Brighter Day, an organization that provides local needy kids with food on the weekends. That organization reached out to local schools who were very receptive to the idea, Cristin says.
“So I decided I’d collect items and pack little bags for kids to give them on or near their birthday,” she says. “I thought it would be my girls and I packing a few dozen bags. But as people heard about it, friends, families and businesses started getting involved and we started getting donations of money, bags and items to fill the bags.”
Last year, Brighter Birthdays gave away 250 individual birthday bags. The organization works through local schools.
“I don’t personally give the bags to the kids,” Cristin says. “We collect the donations, fill the bags and get them to the schools. They give the bags to the kids who need them. There are a couple schools who give a bag to every single child.”
Each school handles their Brighter Birthday bags differently. Some students get their bag on the Friday of their birth week and some schools give out bags monthly to all the kids on their list who have a birthday that month.
“And we don’t forget about summer birthdays,” Cristin says. “Those kids get birthday bags too.”
The bags are string bags bearing the logo of Brighter Birthdays or of a sponsor/donor. All the bags contain something from Steak & Shake as well as from Chick Fil A. Other items might include Frisbees, sun glasses, beach balls, chap stick, crafts and basic toiletries. Cristin also makes sure to include a birthday card and party supplies such as a hat and a balloon.
“I get messages from guidance counselors all the time who say the kids really love the bags,” Cristin says. “And I get message from students who say the bags are special because something as simple as the balloon means a lot to them. Some of these kids have never had a birthday party and wouldn’t get anything for their birthday at home.”
And sadly, Cristin says, many of the students, upon receiving a Brighter Birthday bag, weren’t even aware that it was their birthday.
Last spring, Brighter Birthdays was incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit. Cristin says they’ve already delivered all the bags for this school year and have already had requests for at least 2,250 bags for the 2018-2019 school year.
The Community Kitchen has given them some space to store donations and pack all the bags before they’re delivered to local schools.
A donation drive is underway to collect all the items for birthday bags for the upcoming school year. Cristin says she’s working with Restoration Rome to learn what additional items to include the bags which might serve as stress therapy for the kids — many of whom are not living in ideal family situations.
Some of the items needed are small containers of Play-Doh, 24-count boxes of crayons, basic party scupplies, stickers, glow sticks, toothbrushes and other small toiletries.
“We’re also looking for businesses to partner with us,” Cristin says. “Businesses can have their logo on the bags or on the items we give out. We’re always grateful for monetary donations too. And we are a nonprofit so donations are tax deductible.”
Cristin wants to thank all the individuals and businesses who have already donated to Brighter Birthdays, especially the Community Kitchen, The Rome Braves, Rome Action Ministries and area churches.
“This isn’t what I had in mind when I started this,” Cristin says. “A nonprofit wasn’t on my radar. I wanted to find a way for my kids to serve others and suddenly this has grown in ways I never imagined. I honestly never thought we’d be able to help so many kids.”
“But no matter how big we get, Brighter Birthdays will always be about trying to bring a smile to a child on their birthday,” she adds. “We want them to know someone is thinking about them on their special day.”
To learn more about Brighter Birthdays or to find out how you can donate, visit online at www.brighterbirthdays.org