Birthday Blessings serves foster children in Missouri, filling ‘at-risk kids with hope and dignity’

Ashlyn Vermeer - Birthday Blessings

Ashlyn Vermeer of Birthday Blessings | Photo courtesy of United Way of the Mark Twain Area

HANNIBAL, Mo. — May is National Foster Care Month, and the United Way of the Mark Twain Area has been highlighting the work of Birthday Blessings throughout May.

Birthday Blessings, a nonprofit organization headquartered in West Plains, serves foster children throughout the state of Missouri, including those in Marion, Ralls and Monroe counties. Birthday Blessings’ mission is to fill “at-risk kids with hope and dignity,” and their motto is to “meet needs and spread cheer in the Missouri foster community.”

More than 20,000 kids are in the Missouri foster system. Birthday Blessings helped 1,750 of those children last year.

Celebrating birthdays is a joy many foster children never experience, but through Birthday Blessings, these children are provided a birthday celebration. The organization collects personalized birthday wish lists from each foster child’s caseworker from the Division of Family Services, then puts together a birthday party bag filled with gifts and other birthday items. The party is complete with a box of their favorite cake mix and frosting with candles counted out for the top of the cake.

Striving to care for the physical and emotional needs of foster children, Birthday Blessings also provides a variety of needed resources to the kids they serve. Children receive their birthday gifts in duffle bags, providing dignity to those who move from home to home. Foster children often have little notice when they are moving, and usually rush to put their belongings into large trash bags. The duffle bags and backpacks remove the stigma of throwing their items into a garbage bag.

Packages are wrapped monthly by Birthday Blessings director Shannon Vonallmen and volunteers at the United Way of the Mark Twain Area, then delivered to caseworkers who distribute them to the kids.

Birthday Blessings also has volunteer teams in Sedalia, Troy, and Warsaw. Birthday Blessings has grown since it was founded in 2013, expanding its services past birthdays. Bunny Blessings brings extra joy to foster kids through Easter baskets.

The organization also provides baskets of basic household goods for foster kids who are transitioning into adulthood, seasonal care packages and graduation gifts for foster teens. They provide teen moms with baskets of essential baby care items to take home from the hospital.

When a foster child finds their forever family, Birthday Blessings celebrates with them through a candy bouquet and special photo frame at the time of adoption.

Birthday Blessings is made up of all volunteers and only one employee — Vonallmen, the founder and executive director.

Community members and businesses are encouraged to partner with United Way to be a light to people who rely upon the programs United Way helps fund. People interested in financially supporting the efforts of United Way can give online at unitedwaymta.org or by mailing gifts to P.O. Box 81, Hannibal, Mo., 63401.

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