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The Happy Birthday Project helps struggling Calgary families mark milestones

Volunteer Renu Chandarana (right) helps assemble birthday essentials for families in need as part of The Happy Birthday Project. Sarah Offin, Global News

A unique Calgary charity is providing a special support network for parents who are struggling in the current economic downturn, with job loss, depression, poverty or other challenges.

The Happy Birthday Project was started three years ago by a pair of Calgary moms who wanted to show their kids how to give back to the community.

The charity helps families facing significant adversity to celebrate their child’s birthday. Serving a wide range of families, including those fleeing family violence, The Happy Birthday Project provides birthday party packs to families with all the supplies necessary to throw a party for a child.

The Happy Birthday Project has provided 737 birthday packages to families, catering to children’s specific likes and interests and in March was taken on by Made by Momma, another non-profit serving families in Calgary. Both organizations have similar goals and when Made by Momma heard that the two founders were unable to continue the project due to growing demand, it was a good fit say the organizers.

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Since March, 50 birthday packages have been handed out and volunteers say it helps families feel like they are still providing rewarding experiences for their kids.

“This is empowering families,” said volunteer Renu Chandarana. “We don’t want people to feel like they’re receiving charity – we want them to feel like they’re actually receiving something that they can do for their child.”

A typical birthday pack includes birthday cake mix, cake pan or cupcake wrappers, cutlery, plates, cups, decorations, snacks, loot bags and a gift for the child. Each pack is custom-made according to a request list that the families fill out.

“We know what it’s like when our child’s eyes light up when it’s their birthday, and I don’t think any kid should have to go through a year without celebrating their birthday,” said Chandarana.

The Happy Birthday Project also throws group birthdays at the Discovery House and the Brenda Strafford Centre each month which celebrate all the children who have birthdays in that month. Each child celebrating is allowed to invite some of their friends from the shelter, and the organization brings in a specially-made cake and decorations.

Made by Momma also supports families facing adversity by providing up to six weeks of support for the family in the form of nourishing and wholesome meals. They hold ‘group cook’ sessions with their volunteers to cook fresh meals for the families requiring assistance. The organization provides up to two weeks of meals at a time for each family and accommodates dietary concerns as best they can. It also provide in-home support and baby essentials for these families if necessary.

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Clients can fill out an online form to request assistance from Made by Momma, and The Happy Birthday Project can be contacted here. Families wishing to be part of The Happy Birthday Project must be referred by a social worker, social agency or shelter.

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