No-Gift Birthdays Spur Charitable Giving

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by Lisa Y. Taylor

 

As a girl celebrating her 8th birthday, Chloe Harrah didn’t daydream about the typical gifts. She likes dolls, jewelry and games, but in 2010 she had a unique wish. She asked her family and friends to give her money that would buy presents for a Christmas toy drive benefiting children at the Mission Road Developmental Center on the city’s South Side.

 

Her unselfish act was inspired by Chloe’s grandfather, Sgt. Alfred Trinidad, who passed away in October 2009.  He was the longest-serving police officer in San Antonio’ history, with 51 years of service.

 

“She heard so many people talk about his service to the community, and she told me that she wanted to be remembered for being like her ‘Popo,’” says Chloe’s mother, Esther Harrah. “She wanted to help others, too.”

 

Chloe’s efforts raised $1,000 for the toy drive, sponsored by the local chapter of the Blue Knights Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club. Of course, not every child is able or willing to forgo the usual birthday gifts to ask for charitable donations. But those who do make the sacrifice reap long-term rewards that are priceless, say their parents.

 

Starting a Legacy

To show their gratitude for Chloe’s fundraising, the Blue Knights designated her as the grand marshal of the motorcycle and classic car parade that delivered the presents to the children.

 

“The Blue Knights gave her a special leather vest and called her their ‘Little Blue Angel,’” Harrah says. “They presented her with a sash decorated with different pins and patches from law enforcement and military groups.”

 

Chloe says the most memorable part of the charitable experience was watching the children smile as they received their wrapped packages.

 

“It felt really good to help, and I felt really excited,” she says. “I already have everything I need and want, but some people don’t. I saw people who really appreciated what we were doing for them.”

 

Chloe wants to keep on giving. For her 9th birthday, she asked that her party guests bring new or gently used books that she delivered to the CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital in downtown San Antonio. In all, she gathered 160 books.

 

Choosing a Charity

For Chloe, choosing an organization to assist originated from her admiration of her grandfather. Yet, with so many worthwhile charities needing help, children may struggle to decide where to give. Charitable opportunities often lie right around the corner.

 

Last year, as Claire Ramos was about to turn 9, she decided to  raise funds for the annual Chain of Love fundraiser sponsored by her school, St. George Episcopal School in Castle Hills. Within the invitation of her roller skating party, she provided a donation card and envelope so friends could anonymously give to the campaign.

 

Claire’s birthday fundraiser netted about $700 of the more than $25,000 raised in 2010 to benefit a school in Haiti. Last spring, she joined her St. George peers as they gathered in the school’s gym to watch the falling of a domino chain in which each domino represented $1 raised.

 

“She never thought her birthday request would amount to that much money, so she was so surprised when it did,” says Claire’s mother, Irene Ramos. “She realized how much impact one person can make.”

 

Ramos believes her daughter’s encounter with generosity will further encourage her to seek more ways to give.

 

“I hope the experience instilled in her a sense of compassion, a spirit of generosity and the desire to share and do things for others,” she says. “My husband and I are trying to teach her that helping others is something God expects of us.”

 

Gaining Perspective

Like the importance of reading or healthy eating, some parents begin to teach their children about charity from an early age. For the last three years, the birthdays of 6-year-old Vincent Haug and his 3-year-old brother, Charlie Haug, have been celebrated with charitable donations instead of typical gifts.

 

Last year, friends brought canned fruits and vegetables and boxed foods to the brothers’ parties that would go to a local emergency pantry. Soon after their birthdays, the boys delivered the food to Inner City Development, a community services center on the city’s West Side that assists economically disadvantaged families. The charity is situated near a neighborhood where their maternal grandmother grew up.

 

“Our intention is to teach our children that you’ve got to be able to give back to where you came from,” says the boys’ mother, Tanya Haug. “It’s important for them to understand that money doesn’t just happen. You have to pay your way and help others with either your time, money or other things that are readily accessible to you. If we can teach them those ideals, then we feel pretty good about the people they will become.”

 

Haug says her sons do not feel as though they are missing out since they have plenty of toys and they receive birthday gifts from their grandparents and close family.

 

“Not getting presents from their friends doesn’t take away from their birthday fun. They still get a party and presents from us. Yet, they’re not overwhelmed with things. We hope that when they grow up they will realize that giving is an important part of who they are.”

 

Lisa Y. Taylor is a San Antonio-based freelance writer and the mother of three daughters.

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