While we never like to see families need the shelter, staff and volunteers usually love having kids around. Even most guests enjoy the shift in energy that kids bring. This past season, we were blessed to walk with a sweet family made up of a mom, a teenage son and young daughter. B had a zest for life and a contagious smile. She quickly charmed the staff and volunteers with her 6 year old sass, her love of coloring and games, and her endless desire to bake cookies with a willing volunteer. Her giggle would drift down the hallways in the evening, often breaking the tension or the weariness of the day. She loved pretending she worked at the shelter, putting up sticky notes with smiley faces and scribbles throughout the staff office. She was a wonder wrapped in glitter and pink and spunk.
As her family waited in the shelter for an apartment to open, B’s birthday approached. She made sure to tell staff, volunteers, and other guests that her BIRTHDAY was coming, so none of us would forget. Birthday’s can be tricky in the shelter. We don’t want to overwhelm families with an outpouring of gifts but we also want to celebrate those milestones and bring a little sense of normalcy. Birthday celebrations bring fun and break the monotony of long winter nights.
We were lucky to have a volunteer who was gifted with the ability to ‘find’ things- often in the dumpsters of big retail establishments. As B’s birthday month approached, this amazing volunteer presented us with her latest find. A local party store had recently purged much of their inventory and one of the tossed items was a full set of unicorn birthday party supplies. B had told us she desperately wanted a unicorn birthday party. It seemed to be fate. We hid the supplies in the hidey hole in our office- ready and waiting for birthday day. Another volunteer called and asked if they could provide some cupcakes for the night of her birthday and our finder of all things volunteer was planning to make a unicorn cake with her daughter. This party was going to be well sugared!
The day of B’s birthday arrived. During the day while the shelter was closed, we gathered the items from their hiding space and began to decorate the shelter. We hung unicorn streamers from the door to her room and pinned up a giant unicorn poster by the beverage station. There were unicorn napkins and pink unicorn confetti for the food table. Pink, sparkly, unicorn magic exploded all over the space. Another volunteer had created a beautiful gift bag full of things she and B had enjoyed together at the shelter including special snacks, games, and coloring books. One of the guests, who often thought of himself as the shelter grandpa, even got her a gift card. B was a little shocked and maybe a little overwhelmed by it all. Her normal boisterous personality was a little subdued as she took it all in. Some dreams do come true in the most unexpected ways. Items pulled from a dumpster, cakes baked in family kitchens, gift cards bought with spare change, all coming together to create a magical 7 year old birthday party. The story of stuff that creates a special kind of shelter magic, giving everyone a little reprieve from the daily grind- celebrating the mystery of unicorns, the wonder of birthdays, and the joy of a little girl.
– Pr. Erica