Naperville project collecting birthday supplies for needy kids
Kate Schultz has fond birthday memories many would envy.
Decorations all over the house. Fireworks displays just for her. Loving parents and sweet treats.
Not everyone has those advantages, the Naperville woman has realized. But now, approaching her 33rd birthday, she's trying to provide all the fixings of a great celebration to as many birthday boys and girls as she can.
With a project called Let Them Eat Cake, Schultz aims to collect 100 complete "birthday bags" to donate to Loaves & Fishes Community Services in Naperville.
The bags contain birthday decorations, party favors, invitations and thank-you cards, balloons, streamers, plastic cutlery and paper plates, and of course, cake mix and frosting, so families in need can provide well-stocked celebrations for their children.
"For me, it's about making a child smile and letting them have the kind of great birthday that I was blessed to have as a kid," Schultz said. "Sometimes people really don't think about the fact that people can't afford to give a birthday party with all the trimmings."
Schultz's service project began in 2012 before her 30th birthday, when she ran a food drive for Loaves & Fishes in conjunction with its annual Day Without Hunger celebration.
Jody Bender, who worked for Loaves & Fishes before she recently moved to Michigan, said Schultz's donation was the second-largest for the event that year, but the initial donation only contained a few birthday supplies.
Schultz, work works as a communications specialist for the city of Naperville, said one of her college friends zeroed in on the idea of donating birthday supplies and ran a similar drive for her own summer birthday. Seeing the success of her friend's birthday supplies drive, Schultz decided she liked the creativity of providing party materials in various themes of movie characters, cartoons or superheroes.
In 2014, her first official Let Them Eat Cake collection brought in enough donations and supplies to create 65 complete birthday bags for Loaves & Fishes, and Bender said the pantry was impressed.
"I had no idea the magnitude she would come in with. She happened to come in on a day when the shelves had almost no birthday bags on them," Bender said. "She came up with the most astonishing bags of birthday goods."
Loaded into a van, an SUV and a car, the bags made a large display, Schultz said. But even with coupon clipping, online shopping, dollar store hunting and every other cost-saving measure she can think of, the bags don't come cheap. They often cost between $15 and $30, so she's accepting donations on a GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/letthemeatcake2015.
A desire to give back is motivating Schultz to seek additional birthday bags to donate this year. The effort also helps her remember her mother, Ricky Houlihan, who died eight years ago from cancer. Much of the reason Schultz's birthdays as a child in Minocqua, Wisconsin, were "always amazing" was because her mother "always looked for little ways to make me feel special on that day."
"This is just a little something I can do to give back to honor my mom," she said.
If people want to donate leftover birthday supplies or provide full birthday bags in person, they can reach out to Schultz before July 15 at firstname.lastname@example.org. She's also formed a Let Them Eat Cake Chicago/Naperville Facebook page to keep donors up to speed about the progress of the drive. Three weeks before the big day, she had 62 birthday bags and nearly all of them were complete.
"She has such a passion for people and is so kind and so good at mobilizing others to share her joy and her feeling of wanting to help," Bender said. I've really enjoyed that."
While birthday bags have become her passion, Schultz said she encourages others to embrace whatever way they feel drawn to give back.
"If you have an idea, run with it," she said. "Just go with it, start and see what happens."