Church Fills Birthday Bags for Kids, Elderly



--By Leslie Uriss Spehar--

No matter how young or old, we all like to be remembered on our birthday. For children, this is especially true. The folks at Janes United Methodist Church in Creighton, PA, are helping to make sure that at least 30 area children have something to celebrate on their special day through their birthday bag outreach program.

The ministry works in conjunction with the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches, providing gift bags for children, ages 3 to 12, whose families are served by its food bank.  Each month, Karen Plesh, the chairperson of outreach at Janes UMC, assembles bags for children who have birthdays in that month.

“You’ve got families who are in turmoil and their focus is on how they’re going to get through new circumstances,” said Plesh. “The last thing they’re thinking of is a little kid with a birthday.”

The church has a small budget for the program, but its success is based largely on donations from the congregation. It’s not unusual for members to stop Plesh before or after service on Sunday and give her items for the gift bags.

“I go to church on Sunday and people come out to me and hand me stuff,” she said. “It’s all supported by donations. It’s a wonderful thing and everybody participates.”

Each bag includes a cake mix, container of frosting, birthday candles, a package of plates and napkins, a birthday card, and a couple of gifts including an age-appropriate book. “Somehow the Busy Times Bookstore in Springdale got our name that we do this,” said Plesh. “It’s a secret how she got our information because she doesn’t go to our church. And every month I get gift coupons from her.”

Though she isn’t present when the gift bags are distributed, Plesh said that the families definitely appreciate them. “I get thank you’s from the food bank and the woman who is in charge always says ‘you don’t know how wonderful this is.’”

More recently, the church expanded its birthday bag program to include a local personal care home. The adult bags typically include a small snack like chips or cheese crackers, puzzle or activity books and a pen or pencil to use with them, a hotel-sized toiletry item donated by members from their vacations, a prayer book, and another small gift.

“I think the big thing there is that somebody knows that they are there,” said Plesh.