Families from Wantagh, Seaford and Levittown gathered on Sept. 29 for a fundraiser organized and hosted by Levittown resident Lauren Saccone in support of Birthday Wishes of Long Island.
Working through its local office in Hicksville, Massachusetts-based Birthday Wishes grants wishes to the 6,000 homeless children living in Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to the organization’s website. It operates in roughly 70 homeless shelters throughout the Northeast, and volunteers from the organization visit the shelters monthly to throw birthday parties for the children living there.
“It is a really great organization, and one that not very many people know of, which was what drew it to me,” Saccone said. “I always like to kind of give attention to organizations that really do need the help.”
Saccone said that her daughters Sadie, 9, and Charlotte, 5, live a happy and comfortable life. Each year, on the last day of the summer, she gives them a “Yes Day,” on which they get to make the rules. “That is kind of how we end our summer, by them picking what it is they want to do, and I just go along,” she said. “There are obviously some limitations . . . but it mostly entails going to the mall, shopping, going out to lunch. And they just plan this really special day where they work together to come up with their perfect day.”
In recent years, though, Saccone said, she thought that a nice way to end Yes Day would be for her daughters to get involved in a charity, to help less fortunate children have a Yes Day of their own.
Then Saccone discovered Birthday Wishes. Her initial plan, she said, was to invite a few of her daughters’ friends to come over and stuff goodie bags. She created a wish list based on items the charity asked for, and offered the bags for sale on Facebook, with all the money to go to the charity. They sold out almost immediately.
“So it turned into an event where I had about 25 children and their parents,” Saccone said. She held the latest event at Levittown Hall on Sept. 29. She had a DJ, Mark Pretter, from On the Mark Music, who donated his services to entertain the children who volunteered. Show Stomping Irish Dance also volunteered to perform for their fellow volunteers and teach them a few steps. The kids spent two hours stuffing 500 goodie bags for homeless children.
“Because these kids did something so great, we then had these people who in turn paid it forward to my little mini-volunteers and did something special for them,” Saccone said of Pretter and the Irish dancers. “So it was a really nice day.”
Saccone raised a total of $330 for Birthday Wishes. Another $100 came by way of a 50/50 raffle, in which 50 percent of the money raised went to the winner and 50 percent went to the charity. Saccone said that another $230 was raised through a silent auction at the event, with prizes that were donated by friends and strangers she contacted via Facebook. The money bought party goods and gifts for teens and babies at the local shelters.
The charity gives out about 800 gifts a month, according to Saccone. “When you think about what we did in that day and how fast it goes, they really are an organization that does need a lot,” she said.
Saccone and her daughters described a visit to one of the Birthday Wishes shelters, where they were told that some children have never seen their names on a birthday cake. “It’s so sad, and that really meant a lot to my girls, to be able to say, ‘Wow I have a birthday cake every year,’” Saccone said.
Saturdays in the fall are busy for many people, she added. “So to have dozens of families there wanting to do this, and other people in the community donating their time, just meant a lot to me. The charity is overwhelmed with gratitude. It was just a really, really great experience for me and my family and our friends, and just a nice way to bring children together to make some change.”