For her 50th birthday, Pat Vagianos asked for — and received — Barbie dolls and remote-control cars. She wasn't having a childhood flashback or a midlife crisis; she needed the gifts for someone else's birthday.
"I can't think of anything better than a birthday party for a child," Vagianos said about her involvement with Birthday Wishes. And birthday parties call for birthday gifts.
The Medford resident is the Long Island chapter's longest-serving volunteer. She said she learned about the nonprofit in a magazine article on the organization's founders, who live in the Boston area. When she went to the group's website she discovered that there was a Long Island chapter.
Vagianos, 52, a manager at eyeglass manufacturer and distributor Luxottica, began her volunteer efforts with Birthday Wishes by donating leftover birthday party supplies she had at home and soon graduated to creating birthdays-in-a-box. She makes two or three of them a month with the help of her two sisters. Granddaughters Jillian Vanlare, 6, and her sister, Julia, 8, of Rochester, help Vagianos select appropriate gifts for the boxes, which have all the supplies needed for a celebration at homeless shelters where public access is restricted.
The Barbies and remote-control cars she asked for all ended up in a birthday box.
"I come from a large family, and we didn't have a lot of money growing up," she said. "We did not have elaborate birthday parties, but my mother always managed to make us feel special. She would make us a cake and then present us with a box that was filled with something unique to us . . . to let us know that we were special kids."
That's what Vagianos said she likes best about Birthday Wishes: "It focuses on making kids feel special."