Georgia Martin remembers her favorite birthday party. The theme was the first movie she ever saw in theaters: "Frozen."

"We made homemade snowballs," said Georgia, of Woodbury. "We took socks and filled them with cotton."

Parents know that plenty of supplies are needed to throw a birthday party for their child, and it can become costly: decorations, paper plates, utensils, goodie bags, maybe a game or an activity, and of course, a cake.

Even at 11 years old, Georgia is acutely aware of this.

"Everyone should be able to have a good birthday, even if they can’t afford it," she said.

Three years ago, Georgia got involved with the organization Birthday Wishes. Originally founded in Massachusetts, Jamie Rapfogel started the Long Island branch in Hicksville 11 years ago. The nonprofit helps children celebrate their birthdays in 85 homeless shelters across Long Island. They also lend a hand to children living in foster care and motels.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the nonprofit threw birthday parties in shelters. Volunteers would go in with all the supplies necessary, including presents.

"These are kids who had never seen their name on a birthday cake," said Rapfogel, of Woodbury.

Birthday Wishes also provided boxes with party essentials for the shelters they don’t visit, which include juice boxes, goodies, crafts and more. They also delivered homemade cupcakes and cakes.

Since last year, the organization has pivoted solely to their "birthday box" effort to service local shelters at a safe, social distance. Instead of baking, volunteers drop off cake mix or mug cake ingredients to create a microwaveable treat, for those who don’t have access to ovens. The birthday boxes now also include masks and hand sanitizer.

"We celebrate over 120 birthdays a month," said Rapfogel. "We’ve never missed a birthday through the whole pandemic. Even though we halted for two months, we made sure to go back and cover the birthdays we missed."

Syosset High School juniors Noora Zakaria and Michelle Yiu started volunteering with Birthday Wishes last fall. They went shopping together to buy all the supplies for a picture-perfect birthday, from tablecloths to birthday candles.

Volunteers can choose the age group and gender of the child who receives their birthday box, Noora said. She’s made two so far and has included LEGOs and Play-Doh among the goodies.

"I just felt it was nice to be able to offer kids an experience they would remember," said Noora, 16. "It’s hard to organize this kind of stuff during the pandemic and I thought helping with this organization would help facilitate that process."

Rapfogel said kids and teens often volunteer with Birthday Wishes because they can relate to the cause. Looking back on her past birthdays, Michelle, who is 17, always remembers "being surrounded by family and friends" as the best part.

"I was interested in doing this because growing up, I was able to have a lot of birthday parties," she said. "I just wanted to give these children the opportunity to have one, as well."

Georgia echoes that sentiment. For Birthday Wishes, she’s made crayons, baked cupcakes, raised money and donated books over the years. During the pandemic Georgia also collected hundreds of masks and bottles of hand sanitizer for them.

She even collected the supplies for the snowball craft from her own "Frozen" birthday party, so that children in shelters could make their own.

Rapfogel applauds Georgia, Michelle, Noora and the rest of her loyal volunteers — moments of joy and normalcy are more important for children in shelters than ever, she said.

And that importance is not lost on the parents.

"We’ve had parents who say, ‘As soon as I’m back on my feet, I want to volunteer,’ and some of them do," Rapfogel said.

Anyone who wants to help children in the shelter system celebrate their birthdays this year can visit the Birthday Wishes volunteer page.

"They feel forgotten on a good day," Rapfogel said. "And here it is during a time where they’re forgotten even more, being lonely and isolated. The kids are just absolutely appreciative of anything that’s in their box."

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