By Lori Calhoun

What started as a simple promise to “do one good deed a day” has turned Arizona Helping Hands into the largest provider of essential needs to the more than 14,000 children in foster care in our state. Arizona Helping Hands serves children in foster care by providing basic needs, birthday dreams, and more.

For over five years, the Birthday Dreams Program at Arizona Helping Hands has been providing age-appropriate gifts to children and teenagers in support of their emotional health and wellbeing. Each year, they provide more than 3,500 birthday packages, which include packages for over 1,500 teenagers. Many times, the birthday package that foster families or caseworkers pick up from Arizona Helping Hands becomes the first birthday present a child or teen in foster care has ever received and the first time their birthday is acknowledged.

Arizona Helping Hands believes that birthday celebrations help children in foster care mature to become confident adults. The Birthday Dreams Program creates special memories by providing personally chosen gifts wrapped and decorated by our volunteers. Volunteers “shop” through the warehouse inventory that includes toys, books, and sporting equipment to find just the right gifts that match age, gender and interests. A party kit is included for the family, complete with banners, cake mix, frosting, and candles.

Teenage birthday packages (ages 13 and up) include a duffel bag filled with gift cards, books, sporting equipment, purses and more. The self-esteem of children who are in foster care as teenagers can be especially low. Showing them the community cares lifts them up and lets them know they are important.

Arizona Helping Hands depends on collection drives typically hosted by businesses to help fulfill Birthday Dreams requests. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those drives are just not able to happen logistically. While the pandemic has slowed donations, the number of children who enter foster care every month has not decreased. Arizona Helping Hands still receives more than 300 birthday dream requests each month, and the gift bins are critically low. They rely on community support to help fulfill Birthday Dreams for children in foster care.

Community members can help by visiting where they can shop their Amazon wish list, donate, or bring new unwrapped gifts to the warehouse Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 3110 E. Thunderbird Road, Suite 100 in Phoenix. The most urgent need is for tweens and teens, ages nine and older. These children request gift cards, bath and body sets, Bluetooth earphones and speakers, books, games, and arts and crafts sets.

More than 10,500 children have benefited from the Birthday Dreams Program since its inception in 2014. Arizona Helping Hands and their committed volunteers go beyond just fulfilling the needs of children in foster care by working to fill some of the “wants.” Their volunteers carry out vital tasks that would otherwise require staff. Volunteers play an instrumental role in executing their mission and carrying out services like their Birthday Dreams Program. For more information, visit azhelpinghands/volunteers.

Lori Calhoun is the marketing and development coordinator at Arizona Helping Hands.