Charity Birthday Parties, or the post where I have strong opinions about birthdays

I frequently look at my house and feel like I’m drowning in stuff.  I’m not even talking about Mark’s extensive “rock collection” (“Maybe we should get him a rock polisher for Christmas!” my husband suggested cheerfully, to my horror – how many MORE rocks would we then have in the house?).  I’m not talking about the fact that my fridge is threatening to implode from the sheer volume of artwork that is either festooning it via magnets or piled in a scary high stack on top of it.  Those are things I can handle (although not the idea of a rock polisher, heaven forfend). 

We’re in an awkward stage, toy wise.  The problem I’m facing right now is that my children still build complicated tracks with their wooden Thomas toys, they use both the junior Duplo Lego AND the teeny tiny big kid Lego, they play with dinosaurs AND stuffed animals, they stage car races with dozens and dozens of little Hot Wheels, they play with board games and superhero action figures.  In other words, there is nothing in the house that I can in good conscience donate or otherwise get rid of.  We are literally drowning in the volume of toys that we have and I have not been able to donate anything that was unused since I boxed up all the Little People sets and Mega Blocks. 

So when we were planning Jake’s birthday party, there was no question: no gifts.  We did this last year as well; on the invitations I specified that in lieu of gifts, each guest was asked to bring a food bank donation.  One of the things I most dislike about other children’s parties are buying gifts for them – I never know what to get, I never know if they have something or not, and I generally feel overwhelmed and confused while trolling the aisles of the toy store.  Food donations – easy.  And let me tell you, people stepped up!

Having a charity birthday party is a very good way to introduce children to the concept of giving and what I consider to be the responsibility of people who are more fortunate than others.  My children are, I think, extremely fortunate and lucky children; they receive many gifts from aunts and uncles, grandparents, and us.  There were fifteen children at Jake’s party; he would not need, and should not have, fifteen little gifts. 

In order to have a successful charity party, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  First, make sure your child is in agreement – have a discussion about charities and giving and be sure to reiterate that they ARE going to get gifts from family members, just not from their little friends.  We can only expect so much.  Second, make sure the party is going to be a lot of fun – the focus of a birthday party, or any party, should really be the good time we are all having, rather than gifts.  We held the party at the Calgary Gymnastics Centre, and it was fabulous.  The kids all had a blast, there was no downtime, and there was only thirty minutes of “party room” time which is where I find parties to really drag. 

Third, make sure you have good food.  Since our party was from 3-5 pm, I did not want to have a huge snack for the kids right before the dinner hour, so I just served cupcakes.  We had a guest with Celiac disease, and so I branched out and made both regular and gluten free cupcakes, and they were equally – but differently – delicious.
Can you tell which are gluten free?  (Hint: the short ones).

The last thing to remember about having a successful charity party is do not forget the loot bags.  I know.  I know.  Loot bags are a scourge on society, but really, you CAN have loot bags and not lose your essence of yourself if you choose carefully.  I gave each child a little egg of Silly Putty – my kids once received those from a dinner guest of mine and they played with it for months after, so hooray for longevity and non-breakable-ness – an eraser shaped like a crayon, and a ton of candy.  Fortunately Halloween candy has been in the stores for over a month now, so I bought several large bags of rockets, bubble gum, and candy necklaces.  I gauged the party’s success from the sheer joy that volume of candy brought to the guests.  Our little gluten-free guest was particularly overjoyed as she opened her bag.  “ROCKETS?  Nicole, I’m ALLOWED to have Rockets!” she shrieked.

Success!  At the end of the day, we had a giant box of food donations AND a group of happy, exhausted, and sugar-high children.  What could be better?


  1. That sounds like a fantastic party!! In fact, I’m feeling a little need to step it up for Em’s birthday in a couple of weeks. Loot bags!? I forgot about loot bags! Games? Activity? What am I dooooing? Up until now I’ve avoided the kid party this will be our first one ever. I have taken notes.

  2. we went to a charity bday party for Oscar’s little friend back in the spring and i was impressed. his is in April. think i’ll begin with the indoctrination now. 🙂

  3. That is a great idea! I had no idea charity bday parties even existed.

  4. Very true – the last thing we need is more stuff (especially stuff with little pieces – GOD, the boxes and boxes of little pieces I’ve cleared out of the kids’ rooms the past few weeks). The kids are really getting into giving to charity, too. I’ll bring it up.

  5. Love this concept! My older son has a birthday coming up and we will definitely be requesting no gifts as we did with his previous party. He’ll be turning three-I’m not sure he understands the whole charity concept yet. Thoughts?

    Also, gymnastics parties are the best! My (much younger) little brother has two of these as a child and everyone really enjoys it.

  6. Yum, those cupcakes look good.

    A charity party sounds great!

  7. What a FANTASTIC idea!
    My kid is only 3 and he could fill a friggen toys r us with all the crap he’s accumulated.
    Bravo to you for thinking about this!!

  8. I love this. And I love loot bags.

    One thing that seems like it would make it even more appealing to the birthday child is letting the child choose the charity. There probably wouldn’t be very many to choose from, but it still might be fun. In our area we have an animal shelter we visit, and some kids in our area have had guests bring donations for the animals. Wee little cans of kitten food! It’s adorable. There’s also a center that collects donations for new mothers, and that might appeal: baby clothes! baby toys! awwwwww!

  9. This is interesting. I’ve seen the trend shift to more chairty type birthday parties. I’m currently planning my daughter’s 4th bday party and I’m a bit torn.

    She has never had a lot of stuff. She has only just started playing with big toys like My Little Pony. And most of them are mine from when I was a kid.

    She only ever gets toys on her bday & Christmas and no other time so I’m not opposed to her getting some treats on her special day. She’s only having 5 kids to her party so I’m not worried about her getting too much.

    Is it wrong to not request no gifts and leave it up to the parents of the guests?

  10. Well done! We’ve also done toys for the Christmas Bureau or books for the Ronald McDonald House schoolroom.

    @Kelly – I think it’s really important to be clear. What if your child is the only one who does the donation (and then didn’t give a toy?). Does “do whatever you are most comfortable with” mean do both? yikes. We just included the charity giving instructions in the invite, made a big deal over each “gift”, and then taken a photo of the entire group and their very generous donations. Kids get it, they just have to be directed towards it and then will run with it.

    And yes, we do “regular” gifts from the family, so we’re also drowning in all of the itmes you mentioned, Nicole.

    We’re seriously considering converting the rarely-used guest room into a Lego room… anything so long as I stop stepping on it!

  11. What an awesome idea to have a charity birthday party. I’ve never heard of this before but it makes sense. My daughter always gets so many presents that she doesn’t need.

  12. Kelly – I think you can go one way or the other. I went with the charity thing because my kids have so much stuff, but when they were younger I did have small parties with only a few guests, and those guests did bring gifts. I just would make it clear on the invitation should you decide to do a charity thing. Other than that, I think people just assume gifts are fine.

Leave a Reply