Local non-profit brings cheer to domestic violence victims

By Ryan Chodora

In DeKalb, Santa comes more than once a year.

“They call us the Santa people,” said Jacqueline Beck, senior nursing major. Beck is a volunteer at Birthday Boxes, a non-profit organization started by the NIU Honors Program. Beck helps with the overall coordination of the program.

Started in 2011, Birthday Boxes is a program that gives back to the community by organizing birthday parties for children at Safe Passage, 151 N Fourth St., and Hope Haven, 1145 Rushmoore Drive.

Safe Passage is an organization that helps prevent domestic violence. It also provides crisis intervention and housing for victims and children.

Hope Haven is an organization that provides shelter and meals for the homeless. It also helps find stable housing for people who are homeless.

Birthday Boxes relies solely on donations from the community and help from volunteers.

“I ask people from around DeKalb to donate items such as juice boxes, ribbon, wrapping paper–all these types of things that you would create to make a kid’s birthday present,” said Andy Kelliher, junior actuarial science major.

Kelliher is also a volunteer and is in charge of fundraising and party planning for Birthday Boxes.

Birthday Box volunteers collect shoe boxes to decorate, they make birthday cards, bake cupcakes, decorate the rooms for the kids and deliver the gifts.

“We eat cake, get candles and actually throw an actual birthday party and then hand out the presents for anyone whose birthday was in that month,” Kelliher said.

These birthdays are designed for children ages 1 to 18 who are in need.

Once a month, volunteers travel to either Hope Haven or Safe Passage to throw birthday parties for the children.

“It’s great for the kids because some of the parents don’t have the funds or the resources to throw their kids a birthday party,” said Melissa Reh-Thompson, case manager for Hope Haven.

Birthday Boxes is something the kids look forward to every month.

“They love it, they love seeing the volunteers walk in, they know something special is about to happen,” Reh-Thompson said.

Both Kelliher and Beck mentioned how rewarding is it to be a part of Birthday Boxes.

“These kids look forward to us coming every month,” Kelliher said.

Reh-Thompson also said that the parents of the children are always appreciative of what the Birthday Boxes volunteers do, and that it is important that the children have the opportunity to celebrate their birthdays together.

According to Beck, Birthday Boxes is always looking for new volunteers. Donations can be dropped off at the Honors Office, which is located in the Campus Life Building, Room 110.

The next Birthday Box event will be held on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Honors Office, Campus Life Building, room 110.

For more information or volunteer opportunities, send an email to Jacqueline Beck at [email protected], or check out the Facebook group “NIU Birthday Boxes.”