By Lauren Wanko
In this Westfield home dozens of wishes are being granted. Birthday wishes for children in New Jersey foster care.
Founder and president of A Birthday Wish, Jane Hoffman, said, “Everybody on Earth has a birthday. So, I think it’s very relatable and it’s really important to let people know, especially children going through a hard time, that they matter. I often say to people, getting a birthday gift maybe isn’t the biggest deal but not getting any birthday gifts is a huge deal.”
It all started two years ago. Hoffman got the idea when she was strolling through town.
“I was in downtown Westfield and I stopped by a CASA of Union County booth. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. We were talking about ways my daughter and I could serve children in foster care,” Hoffman said.
She also says she was shocked to learn lots of foster kids don’t get presents on their birthday. Which is why she launched A Birthday Wish in 2014. CASA child advocates ask kids to write down their birthday wishes. Hoffman posts that on her website. Donors from across the country choose to purchase the presents or donate money to buy the gifts.
“It also builds trust,” Hoffman said. “A lot of these children have been through traumatic experiences and asking them to make a wish and then making sure their wish comes true is just a very small step in learning they can trust the world around them.”
What does it feel like to shop for gifts for children you’ve never met?
“It’s wonderful and it makes you feel better sometimes when you’re walking through the day to know that there’s a little boy or girl or baby that has a smile on their face,” said volunteer Courtney Thein.
Aside from yearly fundraisers, kids like Hoffman’s daughters ask for donations on their own birthdays instead of presents. Seven-year-old Claire’s happy to help.
She said, “When it’s my birthday I get to celebrate with my family and get presents but they don’t even get any presents.”
Her sister, Avery Hoffman, said, “To know that I’m helping someone else in need just makes you feel good inside.”
Every month, volunteers wrap the presents in colorful paper and bows. The gifts are loaded into the car and delivered to child advocates in eight counties. So far, the nonprofit’s granted more than 1,000 wishes.
Hoffman says she’s always surprised by the donors’ generosity. Kids often ask for expensive, unique gifts. A teenage boy wanted a cello. He got it. Another young girl always wanted to see a ballet production. She was given tickets. Kids also ask for gift cards, so they can shop by themselves.
Other teens wish for a night out with their friends.
“The kids who ask for gift cards to Applebee’s or the movies, they’re able to do things every other kid can do and those are the things we take for granted,” explained volunteer Kelly Clearly.
Hoffman hopes to one day expand A Birthday Wish statewide.