Foster children have many challenges to overcome, and a Missouri charity will soon help make birthdays brighter for children in Marion County.

Foster children have many challenges to overcome, and a Missouri charity will soon help make birthdays brighter for children in Marion County.

Foster children have a history of abuse or neglect to cope with. They have to move into a new home or residential facility with people they don’t know; sometimes they have to change schools and make new friends. They have to talk to investigators about what was happening in their homes. There are doctor visits and court appointments to attend. It’s an emotionally-taxing time for them.

Birthday Blessings, a 501c3 non-profit, was created to shine brightness into the lives of these kids. The organization provides birthday party supplies and gifts in duffle bags to foster and at-risk children and teens. In January, they will begin assisting foster kids in Marion County. Marion County is part of the 10th Circuit Children’s Division (CCD) and has about 145 kids in foster care.

“While the focus is 'birthday parties,' we use that as a means to meet the needs of these kids. The parties go out in duffle bags so the kids don’t have to carry their things in garbage sacks like it’s trash. We provide items like backpacks, supplies for school, clothing or bedding as gifts when the kids need them,” said Shannon VonAllmen, founder of the charity.

Government organizations are not allowed to request donations from the community. While there are some local organizations which do provide specific resource support, there is no one in the area offering this kind of assistance. Typically, assistance is needed. Often when a child comes into care, they have nothing more than the clothes they are wearing.

“If they come from a home that was found to have meth in it, we take nothing. We try to get whatever we can from the house on other occasions, but that’s only if the parents will let us,” said Samantha Gosney, Child Services Worker III, 10th CCD. “More often than not, even if they do have clothes with them they don’t have many and they are not in good shape.”

Foster parents do get a stipend to offset the cost of raising a child in their home. According to Gosney, this maintenance is to cover the cost of housing, food, and extra utilities, as well as any additional expenses such as extra-curricular activities, senior pictures and school supplies. While the amount varies depending on the age of the child, it typically isn’t actually enough to cover it all. This is where the charity steps in.

When a foster child has an upcoming birthday, their caseworker fills out a wish list and sends it to the faith-based charity. It includes personal preferences such as favorite colors, interests, and any needs they might have. This information is used to tailor the party to the individual child. Supplies to make a cake, cups, plates, napkins, other assorted party items and a few gifts are selected. The gifts are wrapped and everything is packed into a duffle bag, which is delivered to Children’s Division. Caseworkers there take it to the child before their special day arrives.

"I think that Birthday Blessings will make children realize that they are important and that people who don’t even know them, care for them,” said Gosney. “These people want to make sure that the kids have as normal a life as possible, even if they are in a bit of a different situation than most children around them.”

The charity started with humble beginnings, but the endeavor quickly spread.

“We started in April 2013 in Howell County, Mo. We gave out four bags that month. As word spread, our community responded with tremendous support. Today, we are reaching kids in seven counties,” VonAllmen said.

This year, charity volunteers expect to send out about 250 birthday bags and 240 Christmas bags.

“We are able to reach as many kids as we do because we are completely staffed by volunteers. We have a free space to operate in. No salaries, rent or utilities to pay means our overhead costs are nominal. This frees up a huge amount of funding for our kids. Now we have this same opportunity in Marion County. How could we pass that up?” she said.

Most of the charity’s support comes from individuals, civic groups and businesses in the communities they serve. They receive no government funding. They are looking for opportunities to speak to individuals or groups about what they do and the kids they serve. For more information about the organization, to make a donation or to get involved, find them on Facebook, visit www.birthday-blessings.org or call 417-372-5306.