HANNIBAL, Mo. -- About 145 children are in foster care in Marion County, according to the 10th Circuit Children's Division. A nonprofit new to the area aims to assist them during birthdays and holidays beginning in January.
Birthday Blessings, based in West Plains, Mo., and covering seven counties, provides birthday party supplies and gifts in duffle bags to foster and at-risk children and teens.
Government organizations are not allowed to request donations from the community, and, while there are some local organizations that do provide specific resource support, there is no one in the area offering this kind of assistance, Birthday Blessings founder and director Shannon VonAllmen said.
"Often when a child comes into care, they have nothing more than the clothes they are wearing," she added. "Kids often carry their things in garbage sacks."
Here is how Birthday Blessings works:
When a foster child has a birthday coming up, his or her caseworker fills out a wish list and sends it to the nonprofit. The list includes personal preferences, such as favorite colors and interests, and any needs they might have. This information is used to tailor the party to the individual child.
Volunteers then use that information to pack a duffle bag with supplies to make a cake, disposable cups and plates, paper napkins, assorted party items, a few gifts, a backpack, school supplies and clothing or bedding if needed. The duffle bag is then delivered to Children's Division, where the caseworker will pick it up and take it to the child.
"Birthdays are hard for foster children," VonAllmen said. "Despite everything, home is home, and they're still your family. And on this special day, they're not there to celebrate."
VonAllmen made the decision to expand the nonprofit organization to Northeast Missouri because of the number of foster children in Marion County and because she has a friend who lives in the area. VonAllmen can use her friend's house to package the duffle bags and gifts at no cost.
"This is a huge opportunity to reach more kids, and we could not pass it up," she said.
VonAllmen started Birthday Blessings in April 2013 in Howell County in southwestern Missouri. She was inspired to start the organization because her best friend in high school was a foster child, and she saw firsthand the difficulties her friend faced.
"We gave out four bags our first month," VonAllmen said. "This year they expect to send out about 250 birthday bags and 240 Christmas bags."
Although Birthday Blessings donations to help Marion County children won't be officially collected until January, anyone wishing to donate early may drop items off at Marion County Children's Division, 3055 Holman Drive in Hannibal.
More information about the organization and how to make a donation or become involved, is available at Birthday-Blessings.org or by calling 417-372-5306.