For one little girl in Union County, her third birthday earlier this month might not have been the festive landmark her parents wanted were it not for Stacy Bergerman’s new undertaking.
Bergerman, a Westfield mother of two, had seen how her own children’s excitement built up for weeks before their birthdays.
“It wasn’t even so much about the presents,” she told NJ Jewish News. “They would keep asking, ‘What’s going to be on the cake?’”
That got her thinking.
“We’re fortunate enough to be able to provide our kids with all they need, but there are so many who can’t. I started wondering about those kids and how I could help them,” she said.
Thus was born the idea for The Birthday Box — a supply of party paraphernalia and gifts for those families who might not have the means to make a child’s birthday special.
Bergerman decided each carton should contain an age- and gender-appropriate gift, paper plates and plastic forks, decorations for a small party, candles, and a gorgeous cake — and then whatever extras she can come up with. Graphic designer Jennifer Wilner designed a bright, colorful logo.
Before becoming an at-home mom, Bergerman was an event planner and marketer in Manhattan. She had also volunteered with the NY Foundling Hospital. Though soft-spoken, she is clearly comfortable pulling things together, and with reaching out and engaging others in her plans.
She began telling friends and acquaintances about the idea and asking for their support. Money was one issue; the other was the delicate question of how to find the right recipients. A friend suggested she approach the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. Bergerman, who attends the federation’s Family Matters talks and whose children enjoy the Jewish-themed books provided through its PJ Library program, knew that link-up might by perfect for her.
Andrea Alexander, director of the federation’s Women’s Campaign, said supporters leaped at the idea. The federation reached out to synagogues and agencies like Jewish Family Service of Central NJ and the YM-YWHA of Union County and invited them to find families they felt would welcome such help.
“I sent a letter to friends, inviting them to donate all or part of the $50 needed for each birthday box,” Bergerman said, “and then I went to stores and businesses.”
‘Teach tikun olam’
Among those who have eagerly agreed to donate to the project are Learning Express Toys and Crumbs Bake Shop in Westfield, and Sweet Lew’s Bakery and Pastry Shoppe in Plainfield.
A friend of Bergerman’s, who asked to remain anonymous, donated a big box of gifts.
“We decided to donate several new children’s toys to The Birthday Box program for two primary reasons,” he told NJJN. “First, my mother grew up in abject poverty and I think about how a program like this would have brightened her birthdays while helping my grandmother retain her dignity.
“Second, with how fortunate our children are to receive so many gifts on their own birthdays, this program allows us the opportunity to teach our children about tikun olam. This lesson is accomplished through the minor sacrifice of them learning to give up some unwanted new toys through tzedaka in return for making other children’s lives that much better on their birthdays.”
A couple of families have been selected for April birthday parties. Bergerman will collect the box of goodies and the cake, and federation will deliver it to the agency or synagogue connected with the family. Bergerman and the rest of The Birthday Box benefactors stay well out of sight.
Sharon Raven, early childhood director at the Y, selected the three-year-old in Union County. The little girl got a cake frosted with purple and green, a sparkly princess tiara, all kinds of party decorations, and a big, brightly wrapped gift.