Beverly’s Birthdays Celebrates Every Child’s Special Day
Nov 29, 2019 12:03PM
By Hilary Daninhirsch
Every child deserves to be celebrated on his or her birthday. But for many children living in poverty or experiencing homelessness, this is not a reality. To this end, Megan Yunn founded the nonprofit Beverly’s Birthdays in order to spread cheer to those who need it most with a simple concept: a birthday party for every child.
North Hills Monthly (NHM): What is the mission of Beverly’s Birthdays?
Megan Yunn (Yunn): Our mission is to provide birthday cheer for children experiencing homelessness and families in need. It is based on the fact that we believe that every child deserves to have a very special birthday regardless of personal or financial circumstances. All of the children and families are living at or below the poverty line, and while we very loosely define what the word ‘in need’ means, with nine out of ten children, there is usually a financial component.
NHM: Who is Beverly?
Yunn: Eight years ago, I was working at a local university connecting students to service needs. I was doing a site visit, and I sat next to a little girl named Beverly, who was 11, and I helped her with her homework. She had to use the word ‘accustomed’ in a sentence. I suggested, “At birthday parties, you are accustomed to eating cake.” She said that she never had a birthday party and had never had her own slice of cake. Beverly came from a rough home life but wasn’t homeless herself. I didn’t start the organization until a year after that interaction, but that was the ‘aha’ moment. I thought, there are probably more children who are not being celebrated, and I wanted to do something.
NHM: Why choose to focus on birthdays?
Yunn: Normalcy is really huge. Being homeless as a child is not normal; it is not part of normal development. So let’s make sure that despite that situation, you get to have normal experiences. A birthday is universal—everyone has one, it’s the day that is meant for you.
NHM: How does Beverly’s Birthdays work?
Yunn: There are six programs that make up what we call the ‘Land of Cheer.’
The first is the birthday parties. We host anywhere between 15 to 17 group birthday parties a month. We go to shelters, group homes, and celebrate that month’s birthdays. These really are birthday parties—we provide food donated by Moe’s, as well as cupcakes, treat bags and party games.
We also have birthday cheer bins—these are actual presents that we distribute. We distribute more than 4,300 gift baskets a year to children experiencing homelessness, and we customize this based on an individual child’s or an agency’s request.
With our Itty Bitty Birthday Cheer program, we give out itty bitty bins, recognizing the very first birthday: these are newborn care packages for pregnant women in need. With this program we celebrate 800 newborns each year. We also do community baby showers where anyone in need in the community can be connected to resource providers.
Our fourth program is Birthday in a Bag. This is what we’re able to provide families. We have cake mix, party hats and balloons; everything a family needs to have a party. We service 1,200 families annually with this program.
The fifth is called Classroom Cheer. We wanted to make sure birthdays are special in classrooms, especially in extremely low-income zip codes. We partner with 88 low-income schools, and 880 teachers receive a classroom birthday kit, which allows us to celebrate 23,000 children.
The newest program is the Birthday Boutique—a mobile fashion truck that accompanies us to our group birthday celebrations. Clothing scarcity is a real issue for some children, so they can go on board and receive pajamas, socks and underwear. The truck comes to our group birthday parties with us and is sponsored by Jim Shorkey Family Auto Group.
NHM: How many birthdays have you celebrated to date?
Yunn: Through all six programs, we’ve recognized 30,000 birthdays in some way, shape or form.
NHM: What all is involved in planning for these parties?
Yunn: It’s a lot! Monday through Thursday evenings, my staff is partying somewhere! We do 17 of them a month. Every agency we go to, the format is the same, but the energy is different. It is always joyful and fun, and we recognize our programming is giving these children a cognitive gift, as it’s a break from stress. That is why we are important—there are so many families literally living and struggling day by day. We give them hope and brightness to get them to tomorrow.
Dr. Seuss said you never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory. We may not change the total direction of your life, but if we can give you a good memory, you never know how positive that can be.
NHM: How are you funded?
Yunn: We have a $1.2 million annual budget, and we rely heavily on the generosity of the foundation community. But more than that, individual and direct support really matters to our bottom line. We very much rely on receiving products and brand-new toys and clothing.
NHM: Besides financially, how can people help support Beverly’s Birthdays?
Yunn: The best way you can help support us is to be a volunteer at the parties or to bake for the parties. We have a group of about 200 committed individual volunteers, and over the year, we work with about 30 or 40 companies or groups that do custom or curated volunteer projects.
We also have Collections for a Cause. Volunteers can collect items for us to use in our Birthday in a Bag. In all of our cheer bins, we include a snack pack, so volunteers can collect for those. Right now, holiday drives are upon us, so we are pushing holiday collections for a cause, especially toys. We rely so much on generosity to carry us into the new year.
Last month we kicked off Champions of Cheer—a service leadership initiative. We recruited 14 to 20 youth, ages 7-12, that adopted Beverly’s Birthday as a fundraiser. Some have hosted cupcake parties and charged admission—you have to bring a toy to get a cupcake, or brand-new books. They have to document their project, and we have a big lunch in January.
NHM: Why is it important to you that children be celebrated on their birthdays, and what message does it send?
Yunn: I think this little boy, named Unique, said it best. I asked him why birthdays are important, and he said, “Birthdays are about letting the world know you matter.”
It’s as simple as that. The best message we’re sending is that you are special, you’re important, you matter, and you are worth celebrating. That is something that everyone should wake up believing, and if you don’t believe it, that’s sad. We want to make sure that especially on your birthday, you know that.
We live in ‘Mister Rogers Neighborhood’ and want to spread cheer and goodness and kindness. This is about simple, meaningful actions to help your neighbor, and that is what Beverly’s Birthdays is doing.