A Long Island restaurant came to the aid of the non-profit “Birthday Wishes of Long Island.” The organization ensures kids in shelters and foster care celebrate their birthdays, gifts and all. With donations down 40% amid the pandemic, a recent event held by the restaurant gave the non-profit a much-needed boost. Credit: Howard Schnapp; Photo Credit: Michael Anderer

Blankets, sweatshirts and toiletries were among the donated items displayed as birthday gifts for teens in foster care and homeless shelters at an event to highlight their plight Tuesday.

"Many of them have never had a birthday party," said Jamie Rapfogel, director of Birthday Wishes of Long Island, at their office in Hicksville. "They’ve never blown out candles on a cake and, honestly … the feeling that they matter, getting something like new things to remember that people care about them on Long Island just really helps build them, their self-esteem, really helps them feel good about themselves."

The event follows last month’s second annual Case’s for Cases benefit, led by local community groups including Birthday Wishes of Long Island and Maryann Birmingham, owner of Case’s Place in New Suffolk. They collected $10,000 in combined cash and gift donations during the drop-off event.

Rapfogel said because of the pandemic donations were down 40% and their usual March fundraiser was canceled.

According to the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, 492 children are in foster care and 376 families are homeless.

Birmingham started the Case's for Cases event in 2019 after reading Regina Calcaterra’s memoir "Etched in Sand" about her experience growing up homeless on the Island. Calcaterra said donated items should focus on what teens would have in their bedrooms to give them "peace of mind."

"It touched my heart," Birmingham said. "I just hope one day that, as I did seeing my mother give, myself and then my children and grandchildren, we just hope to continue to pay this forward."

The event, Case’s for Cases, works to get "cases," such as duffel bags with essential and comfort items, for teens to carry their belongings rather than using trash bags.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Tuesday said individuals and families in crisis were having a worse time because of the pandemic.

"In this case kids who are in homeless shelters, who are in the most difficult and challenging and heartbreaking of circumstances," Bellone said, "to be giving them a little bit of love and light in a dark situation, that’s what Birthday Wishes of Long Island does and particularly in this pandemic, they need as much support and as much help as they get in carrying out that mission."

To donate, visit longisland.birthdaywishes.org.

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