The Gift of Giving: Birthday Buds
Elizabeth Street talks to the founder of this wonderful program
Grace Cowan is an event producer in New York City and a mom of two—but she hasn't let her busy schedule keep her from giving back. The mom to daughters Sadie and Eva also founded Birthday Buds, a service that matches privileged children with children living in poverty who have similar birthdays. When the shared birthday rolls around, the privileged children send the children in need fun and necessary birthday gifts. The program is partnered with the wonderful nonprofit Room to Grow, which assists children living in poverty during their first three years. Elizabeth Street talked to Cowan about why she started Birthday Buds, how to involve children in giving, and more! You can become a bud here. —Hally Wolhandler
How did you get the idea to start Birthday Buds?
My friend Pauline was preparing a birthday party for her son. She knew I volunteered with Room to Grow and she asked if there was a way to donate some of her son’s gifts to a child in the Room to Grow program with an upcoming birthday. We were both guilty of excessive birthday parties for our kids, and felt that teaching our kids how to give would be the best gift we could give them. So, Birthday Buds was born from that conversation! Birthday Buds takes the 3 year old graduates and their siblings from Room to Grow and pairs them with a “Bud” who shares a similar birthday. The “Bud” and his/her family provide a few fun gifts and some essentials.
Can you talk a bit about how Birthday Buds works?
Our kids (and their siblings!) come to us as graduates of Room to Grow. These children, who live in poverty, are paired with a donor child in the program who has a similar birthday. Everyone is committed to Birthday Buds until age 12. We speak to the recipient child’s parents just before their birthday to get information about what the child likes, what size they are, and what sorts of essentials they need, and we relay that information to the donor child’s parents. Using this information, the donor child and their family buy birthday gifts for their recipient child. We make sure that they use great wrapping paper, gift bags, and ribbons! When the gifts are compiled, we send a messenger service to pick up and deliver the presents. We currently have about 150 kids in our program and are welcoming nearly 200 more in June. We’re so excited to be growing, but we always need more Buds!
Do you have any thoughts on how to explain the importance of giving to children?
I think the whole process being a Birthday Buds is a great lesson in giving. When a child is choosing some of their own things, or shopping for new things for a child in need, the parent is given a perfect opportunity to explain the different between wants and needs, and open up the discussion about poverty and privilege. It can be hard for younger children to grasp, but its so important that they do.
Are your children Birthday Buds?
Absolutely! I started Birthday Buds with my dear friend Lara O’Shaughnessy, who has four kids. I have two, so between the two of us, we were off to a good start! When we have kids who aren’t matched with donors, my kids and Lara’s kids will fill in and be a “bud” to several children instead of one. We’ve recently started an annual Cocktail Party fundraiser to raise money to pay for gifts for unmatched kids.
Has there been a particular experience you’ve had since founding Birthday Buds that has been especially meaningful to you?
Talking to our donor and recipient parents almost every day is such a privilege. I love hearing about the joy they all get through giving and receiving…it’s a wonderful thing!