When Westfield mom Stacy Bergerman hosted a birthday party for her son in 2010 she found herself staring at a mountain of presents and wondering how they could be put to better use.
"I was thinking 'he doesn't really need all those. What can we do with them? Who can we give them to?'" she recalled.
Bergerman mentioned the idea of starting a charity to benefit children whose families weren't financially able to host a big birthday celebration to her friend and fellow Westfield mom Jennifer Wilner.
"She explained it in a way that made me tear up a little bit," said Wilner. "I thought 'I have to help; that's a great idea.'"
Bergerman began by sending out an email to friends and family soliciting donations of any unused, wrapped paper goods and extra, unopened birthday presents. The response was overwhelmingly positive and The Birthday Box was born.
Working as a team, the two collect boxes, fill them with tissue paper, plates, forks, candles, and an age-appropriate, wrapped present. A personalized birthday cake is also included and then the box is complete and delivered to a child in need.
While it might sound like a lot of work, Bergerman and Wilner said the Westfield community has been very supportive of their efforts.
"People give us bags full of toys and paper goods," said Bergerman.
"Everyone has a random package of unused plates or a toy or game that they've put in the back of a closet and forgetten about," said Wilner, a graphic designer who created The Birthday Box's cheerful logo. "They use it as opportunity to clean out the closets."
Once they had the concept down, the duo started researching facilities and organizations that could benefit from their endeavor.
"We don't work with individuals," Bergerman said. "What's unique about the program is it's anonymous. So nobody knows that it's us."
"We never meet the children," Wilner explained. "We work with a liason at each organization. Like at an after-school program, we'll work with the contact person in charge and ask if they know of any children who could benefit from the program. We only get their first names, their age, their gender and the date of their birthday."
Bergerman said as much as she and Wilner would love to see the reaction of the birthday boys or girls, they want to respect the privacy and dignity of the recipients and their families. While some children celebrate their birthdays with friends at their after-care program, families have the option to pick up The Birthday Box a day or two ahead of the child's birthday and take it home and assemble the ready-made bash.
"Then when they come home they have an instant party," Bergerman said. "That's the part that we feel is so important. It keeps the dignity of the family so the child doesn't ever have to know it didn't come directly from them and we're providing the child with a gift that they might not have gotten on their own."
"Some of the liasons have given us letters that say that to be able to put candles on a cake made that child's day or even their month," Wilner said. "Some families are in temporary housing and have come here with nothing. If we can provide one day of happiness, then that's great."
Running the non-profit out of their homes, the two manage a database, complete with an online calendar, that helps them keep track of the upcoming birthdays. While it is hectic, as some weeks can include up to six deliveries, both agreed it is incredibly worthwhile.
Not only has The Birthday Box benefitted the recipients, Bergerman and Wilner believe it has helped their children as well. Wilner said her daughter, who recently turned 7, is now in the habit of donating some of her own birthday gifts to The Birthday Box. Bergerman noted that their deliveries, which are primarily in Westfield, Plainfield, and Elizabeth, very often show her children how fortunate they are and are teaching them to think about those in need.
"We both have very busy lives but I think this really helps us keep perspective," said Wilner. "I feel like I'm a very lucky person."
Bergerman and Wilner's children also help by assembling and packing the boxes.
So far, Wilner said, The Birthday Box has delivered 400 boxes since its inception. The organizers said they deliver birthday boxes to approximately 150 children per year and are eager to expand to reach more children in need.
"We welcome organizations to reach out and contact us if they could benefit from our program," said Bergerman, who noted that recipients can be old as 16 years of age.
"We would also welcome anyone who would like to make donation," added Wilner.
The Birthday Box is always accepting contributions of wrapped paper products or new gifts. Checks are also appreciated and Bergerman and Wilner said no amount is too small.
"Even if it's $5, we can buy five boxes of forks or packages of candles," Bergerman said.
A registered non-profit, The Birthday Box also accepts corporate donations and would be thrilled to partner with a local merchant or bakery who might be willing to offer them a discount in exchange for publicly acknowledging their generosity. Currently, the two purchase the birthday cakes at Shop-Rite but said they'd like to support a local, small business and can guarantee 150 cakes per year for the right price.
For more information, visit The Birthday Box's website or contact Bergerman or Wilner at firstname.lastname@example.org.