Students help children celebrate their birthdays

A sophomore founded a Philadelphia chapter of Box of Balloons, a nonprofit that sends birthday party supplies to children living in poverty.

Box of Balloons Vice President and sophomore kinesiology major Jason Otway (left) attends the first Box of Balloons Philadelphia general interest meeting with sophomore and Head of Fundraising Luke Raum on March 13. | JAMIE COTTRELL / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple’s chapter of Box of Balloons recently decorated its first birthday box in pink and sparkles. The Parisian-themed box was sent to a Philadelphia area girl celebrating her 12th birthday.

In November 2017, sophomore undeclared Fox School of Business student Alyssa Heron reached out to the Box of Balloons headquarters to start the organization’s first chapter in Pennsylvania.

Last month, the Box of Balloons Philadelphia chapter became an official student organization.

“We had a lot of fun packing our first box,” Heron said. “It just felt really good to give back, and we felt a connection to the child without even meeting her. We got to have fun while learning about what she’s interested in.”

Box of Balloons, which was founded in 2013, is a nonprofit that provides children living below the poverty line with the chance to celebrate their birthdays by sending each of them a box filled with enough party materials to host a party for six to eight people.

Heron was inspired to start Pennsylvania’s first chapter after volunteering with her aunt’s Box of Balloons chapter in Woodbury, New Jersey.

She said she realized how many children don’t have the money to celebrate their birthdays. She wanted to create a similar program in Philadelphia.

“There are many children that are overlooked, we don’t even know the financial situation that their families are in,” Heron said. “There’s a need for Box of Balloons, especially in Philadelphia…and I know that the students at Temple would definitely be willing to join and help out.”

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, about 21 percent of children in the United States live in conditions where their parents’ income falls below the federal poverty threshold. Additionally, 43 percent of all children live in low-income families.

In Philadelphia, more than 130,000 children live in poverty, according to a 2016 Child Wellness Index published by Philadelphia Public Citizens for Children and Youth. That is about 38 percent of the city’s entire child population.

Heron said Box of Balloons works to make sure children from disadvantaged backgrounds feel celebrated on their birthdays.

To select recipients, Box of Balloons sends out a Google Form to schools and childcare centers in search of recommendations. The program’s policy prohibits volunteers from directly communicating with a recipient or his or her family to protect the child’s privacy. Often, Heron said recipients are identified by a school principal or guidance counselor, who then contacts Box of Balloons.

She added that parents of the children who receive boxes are not obligated to tell their child that the boxes came from Box of Balloons.

“The organization is really all about strengthening the family,” Heron said. “If the parents don’t feel comfortable saying that they got financial help, they can go on and say it’s from them, and that strengthens the family just as much. They don’t need to give us credit in order to spread the joy.”

Claudia Murtha, a sophomore journalism major and the media chair for Temple’s Box of Balloons chapter, recently joined the organization.

“It’s something you never think of, how so many kids don’t have birthday parties and don’t feel celebrated, which can mess with how they grow and develop,” Murtha said. “I couldn’t imagine how it would feel if I didn’t have those opportunities when I was younger and doing this would really help.”

For Jason Otway, the vice president of Box of Balloons at Temple and a sophomore kinesiology major, joining the organization this semester exposed him to an issue he never knew existed.

“I didn’t even think about the problem until it was brought to my attention,” Otway said. “I never thought that birthday parties were something that went by the wayside, but looking at it from this new perspective, it makes sense that birthday parties are the first things to go, and as a kid you don’t really understand that. So it feels really great to be able to bring joy to those kids’ lives.”

To find recipients for boxes, the student organization is currently reaching out to neighborhood schools: Paul L. Dunbar Elementary School, Tanner G. Duckrey School and Frederick Douglass Mastery Charter School.

Temple’s chapter is currently working on its second birthday box.

Heron said Box of Balloons now has 35 members at Temple. Otway added that he hopes to expand the organization to encompass more of the Philadelphia area and eventually connect with other colleges in the city.

“The organization gives the children an opportunity, because sometimes it’s hard to understand why they might not be having a birthday party when their other friends are,” Otway said. “In a way, it helps the children fit in while bringing them joy that they might not be getting otherwise.”

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