Birthday Blessings: The organization that celebrates foster kids birthdays celebrates their 10th birthday

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Vickie Witthaus, left, and Shannon VonAllmen hold birthday gifts in front of 80 Easter Baskets that CASA volunteers will distribute. Megan Duncan

HANNIBAL — As children, Anie and her little brother lived in seven different foster placements in five years.

(Anie’s name was changed to protect her identity.)

With each move, they had to start over in a new community.

When Anie was 6-years-old the promise of a “forever family” shattered when she and her brother were adopted and then abused by their parents.

Anie and her brother went back into the foster care system when she was 11-years-old.

Eventually, she and her brother went to separate group homes.

“At the first group home I went to, all the girls were older. There were a lot of them,” Anie said. “I had just lost my parents. I had very mixed emotions about all of it. It was very hard.”

Finally, she and her brother actively sought to get kicked out of their homes to be together again.

“I acted out a lot. Granted, I had no stability. I was trying to get foster parents. They kept trying to place us in group homes. We wanted to stay together,” she said.

After successfully getting kicked out of the homes they were in, they found out there simply wasn’t enough space for a foster home to take them both.

Anie and her brother, although not together, eventually moved into care where a new organization was forming.

It was ten years ago and Birthday Blessings began foster children with personalized birthday gifts and help supply their needs.

“When I was in 6th grade, the foster parents I was with were not into celebrating. Someone dropped a Birthday Blessings Bag off. I was so happy!” she said. “As soon as they left, my foster mom and I started baking the cake together. It is one of the best memories of I have of being in that home.”

The organization is now celebrating their own birthday and on Wednesday, Shannon VonAllmen, executive director of Birthday Blessings and others, hosted an open house at the United Way of the Mark Twain Area in Hannibal for people to learn about their organization.

To celebrate their birthday any monetary donations made to the organization up to $10,000 from March 27 to April 1 will be matched.

Board member Vickie Witthaus is a big believer in the program.

“For a child not to get a birthday gift, I can’t imagine what they must think about themselves. But knowing that someone cared enough to put this together for them, helps them see their own personal value,” she said. “I want to make sure that every child continues to get a gift because I think that is the foundation of possibly the rest of their lives. Hopefully, every birthday bag they receive lets them know someone cares.”

VonAllmen said community support is vital to their programs.

“We are not funded by the government at all, so we provide services based on the compassion and kind-heartedness of individuals,” VanAllmen  said.

Anie, now an adult, is also a supporter of Birthday Blessings, now donating her time as a volunteer.

VonAllmen said birthdays are an important way to show foster kids that someone cares.

“Birthdays are a big deal because a lot of them have never had a birthday party or even a birthday cake before. Things that a lot of us consider normal experiences growing up, they just haven’t had,” Von Allmen said. “They are coming from backgrounds of abuse and neglect and so they have trauma.”

The organization, which is headquartered in West Plaines, Mo., serves foster children around the state, including Marion, Ralls and Monroe counties.

They work with caseworkers from Division of Family Services to get a wish list from each child, which is approximately 250 children in Marion County alone. They also find out what needs the children have, such as clothing or school supplies to include with the birthday gifts.

They bring packages for the local counties to the United Way of the Mark Twain Area about once a month for wrapping and case workers distribute them to the kids.

The packages also includes a mix to make their favorite cake and frosting, with just the right amount of candles counted out to top the cake.

“What we are doing is gathering these supplies that meet their physical and emotional needs. We are putting it all together and decorating it beautifully and then sending it out so that it’s a visual delight when they see it,” she said.

“We know it won’t fix the things they have been through, but we just want them to see outside of their current circumstances that there is a big world out there. There are people who care about them and they matter.”

Jessica Bramblett, case worker for social services, said she loves seeing the kids’ excitement when she brings them their gifts from Birthday Blessings.

“They dropped off gifts at our office on Monday. There were a ton of gifts,” she said. “I have sat with some of them as they open their gifts and got to see their eyes light up and the smiles on their faces. It’s just a phenomenal feeling.”

Bramblett said it’s not only the gifts that bring smiles to the kids’ faces. When they see items on their wish list, it means that someone specifically thought of them.

“We are thankful for Birthday Blessings,” Bramblett said. “They are wonderful.”

They have grown from birthday gifts to providing support for foster kids graduating, transitioning to adulthood, teen moms, Easter basket for CASA kids, and more. During the pandemic, they provided foster families with “Boredom Buster Bags” with board games and other items to help them stay entertained.

Now Birthday Blessings is celebrating their own 10th birthday.

VonAllmen said to volunteer or to make donations for the Birthday celebration, visit their website at birthday-blessings.org.

Donations can also be mailed to:

Birthday Blessings

429 Aid Avenue

West Plaines, MO 65775   

*Quotes and sto

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