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Seven years ago, Megs Yunn met an 11-year-old girl named Beverly who told her something heartbreaking: Beverly had never once celebrated her own birthday. Since that day, Megs has shown over 30,000 children in the Pittsburgh area that they are special, loved, and worthy of celebrating. Now her nonprofit, Beverly’s Birthdays, is helping kids look and feel their best with the help of a mobile fashion truck — and she’s nowhere near finished spreading birthday cheer.

In Megs’s words, the story of Beverly’s Birthdays from her interview on GoFundMe’s podcast, True Stories of Good People:

I was volunteering at an after school center just south of Pittsburgh in 2011 when I met Beverly. As I helped her with homework, she shared with me that she had never celebrated her birthday before, or even had a slice of birthday cake. I remember feeling like someone had knocked the wind out of me — I will never forget that moment. I drove home that night and burst into tears. I knew I was going to do something about it, but I had no idea what that meant at the time.

A few months later, I was at a volunteering conference and stumbled upon a contest by Scholastic called “Be Big in Your Community.” Ever since meeting Beverly, I had been thinking about an idea for an organization that throws birthday parties for children in need, so I submitted my idea and hoped for the best. I wanted to call it Beverly’s Birthdays.

Weeks passed by, and then one day I came home from work to find a package on my doorstep from Scholastic — I had won! I was chosen out of 1,000 other applicants, and was given the opportunity to bring my idea to life with a $2,500 grant.

In 2012, we hosted our first birthday party at an agency in Pittsburg that helps mothers reunite with their children after undergoing addiction treatment. It was a princess and diva-themed party, and one 4-year-old girl in particular had a look of complete awe and wonder on her face. That look will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I quickly realized that a birthday is more than just a party and cupcakes — it’s showing someone that they’re loved and worth celebrating. A 9-year-old boy I met at a crisis shelter summarized it perfectly. He said, “Miss Megs, birthdays are about letting the world know you matter.” Beverly’s Birthdays exists to give families hope, love, and validation.

After that first birthday party, I quit my job to grow Beverly’s Birthdays and acquire 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. It started off with bake sales at my gym, reaching out to friends and family members, and collecting every donation that came in, no matter how small. By the end of the first year, we had raised enough money to partner with three social service agencies in the Pittsburgh area.

One of my favorite memories is of a teen boy named Ricky who I met at a birthday party. It was easy to see he still had so much joy inside of him, despite the trauma he had experienced. Ricky wrote that he loved Mariah Carey on his birthday request form, so I gave him a few Mariah Carey CDs and a T-shirt. When he opened his gift, he thanked us for making him feel so special — and that’s exactly why we do this. Ricky and I have kept in touch, and I always wish him a happy birthday every year in September.

I thought of the idea to add a mobile fashion truck to our program a few years ago when I met a little girl named Becky who was celebrating her 11th birthday. I noticed that her clothing was two sizes too small and she looked uncomfortable.

Many of the children we serve in the foster care system struggle with finding clothes that fit properly, but I didn’t realize how serious the problem was until that moment. I began asking children about their clothing, and many of them didn’t even know what pajamas were because they had never owned a pair.

Every child deserves to have enough clothing and clothing that fits them, so we worked to acquire a mobile fashion truck and fill it with brand new clothing, shoes, and accessories. Then children and teens could “shop” for new outfits during their birthday celebrations. We started referring to this concept as ‘hope on a hanger.’ It wasn’t just about the clothing — it was about the hope that the clothing provided.

I started a GoFundMe in 2017 to help fund the fashion truck that we dubbed the Birthday Boutique. We saw an amazing response and could tell that people believed in our idea.

When kids step inside the Birthday Boutique, they’re blown away. Most shopping experiences end with giant hugs, tears, and huge smiles all around. In 2018, we dressed 200 kids and teens in new clothes. Now our goal is to provide three to four new outfits to 800 children and teens by the end of this year.

Since Beverly’s Birthdays launched in 2012, we’ve built six programs focused on celebrating children and teens on their special day. We’ve been able to celebrate over 30,000 birthdays since 2012, which breaks down to over 50 birthdays every day in some way, shape, or form. Beverly’s Birthdays partners with 68 social service agencies and 88 low-income schools.

It’s difficult to track the long-term impact of celebrating a birthday or giving a kid an outfit. But maybe we’re shedding a little bit of light and sprinkling in a little bit of glitter during a family’s darkest moments — and maybe that’s giving them hope.

If a birthday party can make a child feel important, and this helps their mother wake up the next morning and say, “I’m going to make it through this day,” then I’ll feel like I’ve done a good job.

Learn how you can support Beverly’s Birthdays.

Listen to Megs’s full interview on True Stories of Good People.

Special thanks to Megs.