Paige Chenault was a successful event planner in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, looking forward to the birth of her first child. While reading a magazine story about a disaster in the Caribbean, she suddenly stopped — captivated by an image of a young boy standing alone among the ruins. She thought of her unborn baby and wondered if anyone was left to care for and worry about the child pictured in the magazine. Would he know what it is to run and play? Would there be food and water for him? Would he ever have a birthday celebration like the ones Paige staged for others – and someday soon – would plan for her own child?
In that moment, the idea of the Birthday Party Project was born. It took Paige several years to realize her dream, but soon after she staged the first party in 2012, the fledgling nonprofit become one of the area’s most beloved do-gooder groups. These days, the Birthday Party Project hosts more than 40 parties every month in 15 cities across the United States, fulfilling the simple, yet vital mission of ensuring that children who might otherwise be forgotten know what it is to celebrate their birthdays.
By the Numbers The Birthday Party Project
“We’re there for fun, to bring a level of normalcy to the kids,” said director of operations Kimberly Nielsen. “Everybody has a birthday, and we’re going to celebrate the birthday kids. The whole agency is invited. So it really becomes a community event.”
The Birthday Party Project has found support from state agencies, local businesses, philanthropists, an endless stream of volunteers and, of late, the Hormel® Natural Choice® team. Upon learning of the Birthday Party Project, workers in Austin, Minn., felt an instant connection and a sense of shared values and purpose.
“We want to tell the stories of those who are making an impact in our communities,” said Beth Fehrenbacher, senior brand manager for the Hormel® Natural Choice® brand.
The brand’s Good Feeds Us All campaign, rolled out in 2019, establishes Hormel® Natural Choice® products as good food that can be a conduit for life-affirming connections. The Good Feeds Us All Tour is an extension of the campaign that is allowing the Hormel® Natural Choice® team to spotlight good works taking place in communities throughout the United States. That’s where the Birthday Party Project came in.
I can’t wait to show them just how special they really are and give them the opportunity to celebrate a birthday that they maybe wouldn’t get otherwiseBeth Fehrenbacher, senior brand manager for the HORMEL® NATURAL CHOICE® brand
“Every decision we make is based on our mission, which is to bring joy to children,” said Nielsen. “So how can we make that one-hour party as joyful and special for them as it can be?”
The organization makes it easy for volunteers to do their work. There’s a storehouse of gifts, decorations and games, and each party has a theme. The Hormel® Natural Choice® team members didn’t miss a beat, rolling up their sleeves to shop, wrap presents and assemble decorations for the emoji-themed event.
“It’s going to be the highlight of my week to really interact with these kids,” said Fehrenbacher. In addition to pitching in, she planned a dinner, snacks and interactive foodie activity to add Hormel® Natural Choice® brand yumminess to the regular birthday party agenda.
“I can’t wait to show them just how special they really are and give them the opportunity to celebrate a birthday that they maybe wouldn’t get otherwise,” she said.
Given their expertise, the Hormel Foods team members brought someone extraordinary to the table. They reached out to parenting blogger and influencer Lunchbox Dad (Beau Coffron), known for his whimsical and Instagram-friendly, kid-focused food art. Coffron designed a lineup of emoji-themed sandwiches and demonstrated how to make them at Promise House, an emergency shelter and the site of the birthday celebration. He even showed the kids how to take Instagram- and Tik-Tok-worthy photos.
“The idea that this food can bring us together, and food can be art is something that’s amazing to me,” he said. “… It’s an honor just to be here for the Birthday Party Project, to be able to show the kids a little bit of something but also learn from them, too.”
Others agreed. The evening was one nobody in the room will soon forget.
“When the Birthday Party Project comes in and brings somebody from the outside, it’s just like, ‘Somebody else cares about our birthdays too. They brought somebody in!’” explained social worker Ashley Jackson. “That you took the time out to actually give them presents too? I mean, that means the world to them.”