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Non-profit set to cross 1,000-birthday celebration milestone

Celebrate Birthdays became an official non-profit in 2019 and has seen its requests for 'Birthdays In A Box' program tripe since March because of COVID-19.

TAMPA, Fla. — Two nurses, who happen to be best buddies, both felt a calling to help kids in their community last year. Belinda Leto and Celina Saunders set out to provide birthday parties for kids who otherwise may not receive one.

They never expected to be hosting a 1,000th party just a year later.

“Just to know that this is such a need out here, yeah, it blows our mind,” said Leto, who has been a nurse for 18 years.

Leto and Saunders launched an official non-profit, Celebrate Birthdays, in late September 2019, after months of throwing parties for kids in Tampa Bay. They provided monthly birthday parties at organizations like the Children's Home Network, Boys and Girls Clubs, and more, complete with cake, ice cream, games and gifts.

Many of the kids had never blown out birthday candles before.

“We just wanted to make sure that every kid got a birthday,” said Leto.

Since the introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic, parties have become even more in demand. Celebrate Birthdays started offering a "Birthday in a Box" for kids in need. Leto and Saunders partnered with organizations such as the Guardian Ad Litem Organization, Food Banks, Spring Domestic Violence Shelter, Metropolitan Ministries & Social Service agencies to identify children in need of a party. Celebrate Birthdays then provided a box filled with all the necessities – a cake pan, cake mix, frosting, decorations, games, a book and age appropriate toys all based on the wants and likes of the child.

It’s a tailored party experience. Celebrate Birthdays went from a few dozen parties per month to well over 100 in July. In August, the non-profit will throw its 1,000th party since its inception.

“We’re very excited about that,” Leto said of the milestone.

Celebrate Birthdays has plans to launch a new initiative this fall called “Classroom Birthday Bins." It will provide all teachers in select elementary low income and Title 1 schools a bin for up to 30 students filled with a birthday crown, notebook, birthday pencil, birthday bracelet and stickers so each teacher can make that child's birthday a big event in front of their peers.

“We started off in one Boys and Girls Club and the need just grew and grew and grew,” said Leto.

Leto likes to quote Dr. Seuss, who once said "You never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory". Celebrate Birthdays hopes small acts of kindness will become memories for these children to last a lifetime.

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