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Better Birthdays

Donating leftover party supplies

Deborah Lynn Blumberg
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Erin Koren

PARTY TIME Erin Koren's nonprofit Birthday Bundles collects party supplies for families in need. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

When Erin Koren’s son, Beckham, turned 5, she threw him a robot-themed birthday party complete with décor she made by hand, including a life-size robot built from boxes and foil. Afterwards, Koren cringed at disposing of the party items. So a few weeks later she reused them at her daughter Charlotte’s third birthday. When that was over, Koren still couldn’t bear to toss the decorations, which were in pristine condition.

“I thought, surely somebody else could use this décor,” says Koren, a former elementary school teacher who lives in Meyerland. Over the years, Koren had collected plenty of leftover party supplies from birthday parties, and the mismatched items sat unused in cabinets and bins. “You always buy too much, and then you have bits and pieces.”

Koren realized the leftover supplies could instead brighten the birthdays of children whose families can’t afford party supplies – and she put together a plan to create a nonprofit that would do just that. Since November, Koren’s nonprofit Birthday Bundles for Kids has assembled and delivered more than 100 colorful packages of donated birthday party supplies to kids in need. 

Koren accepts used and new party supply donations, then mixes and matches the leftover items in her home, creating fun, cohesive bundles families can use during small, family birthday celebrations. Kids don’t care if party supplies are mismatched. “Mine never have,” she says.

Each bundle typically includes party hats, noise makers, a banner, plates, napkins, a table cloth, birthday card, candles, balloons and party favors, and accommodates a family of at least four, and sometimes as many as eight. Koren buys generic items like plain cups, blowers and plates to supplement the bundles.

Erin Koren

PARTY TIME Erin Koren's nonprofit Birthday Bundles collects party supplies for families in need. (Photo: lawellphoto.com)

A recent bundle featured Mickey Mouse Mylar balloons, red and white checkered plates, happy birthday buttons and a colorful banner. Koren packed a narwhal-themed bundle with narwhal piñatas and flower centerpieces, and added wearable moon boots, space shuttle cutouts and silver cups to a space-themed one.

She delivers the bundles to local charities, including the Buckner Family Hope Centers in Houston and Aldine, which help homeless and vulnerable families. Buckner throws a general, monthly birthday celebration for its families, but the centers didn’t have the budget to provide personalized party supplies for each family to hold their own celebrations.

“This is filling a need they’ve had,” says Koren. “They can just hand it to families and say, I hope this helps you celebrate your child.” 

In Koren’s living room, she’s surrounded by baskets of trinkets like car erasers and dozens of Fancy Nancy coin purses decorated with butterflies. Party supplies fill a hall closet and spill over into her garage apartment. “The feedback has been wonderful,” she says. “The moms, especially, have been thrilled.”

Koren fondly recalls her own family birthday celebrations growing up in Ohio –  receiving a colorful Mylar balloon from her parents, playing musical chairs, and baking a simple Betty Crocker cake – and she’s thrilled to help create similar warm memories for others. Birthdays don’t have to be elaborate to be memorable, she says. “Our birthday traditions were so fun, yet simple, and I looked forward to them every year.”

Koren brings experience to her new venture. Previously, she volunteered in the Child Life Department at Texas Children’s Hospital, where she helped make birthday banners for young patients and sourced toys and decorations. 

With Birthday Bundles, social media has been integral to spreading the word, and the community has come out strong to support the non-profit. Koren created a Facebook page, and says 99 percent of donations come from people she’s never met. 

She’s created several donation drop-off locations around the Houston area, and she also picks up items herself. Others are eager to help. One local mom asked Koren if her 16-year-old son could pick up donations while he’s out practicing his driving.

“The community has been great,” Koren says. “I’m so inspired and overwhelmed with joy over how many people have reached out.”

Koren is now well on her way to becoming a 501 (c)(3), and she says Birthday Bundles’ biggest need right now is even more party supplies. “Maybe you have just one pack of plates,” she says, “but yes, I want it. No donation is too small.”

Editor’s note: The best way to donate is through the Facebook group Birthday Bundles for Kids, or if you don’t use Facebook, contact Erin Koren at [email protected].

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