Think inside the box

Renee and Andreena with their birthday boxes
Renee and Andreena with their birthday boxes

Andreena Bogle-Walton on how she and teenage daughter Renee are bringing birthday joy to disadvantaged families

During a conversation with my daughter Renée a week before her 18th birthday, about a month into the lockdown, we were talking about how she feels not being able to celebrate a milestone birthday with her friends.

We spoke about all the previous birthday celebrations she had and spared a thought for all of those families who couldn’t afford to celebrate, even if they wanted to. In the grand scheme of things, although a birthday is an important occasion to many, it is down on the list of priorities when you have to be careful to budget and focus on buying food and paying bills.

It was then that we had the idea to create ‘My Birthday Box’. This birthday-in-a-box concept is not new, but our version is a way of bringing joy to families living in Waltham Forest, Hackney and Haringey who are facing hardship during the coronavirus pandemic.

The boxes are white on the outside, lined with coloured tissue paper, and include crayons for the family to decorate if they choose to do so. We include balloons, a banner, bubbles, badges, vegan sweets and a blank card. The boxes are gender neutral and the products are safe for any child.

We have chosen to do this from a place of love, kindness and compassion. People from all walks of life, including Vanessa Feltz, have generously donated money for us to be able to create these birthday boxes and we raised almost £900 within four weeks of setting up a JustGiving page. Each box costs £12 to make, not including our time or labour.

At the start of May we delivered our first 15 birthday boxes to PL84U Al-Suffa, a foodbank in Wood Street. We have since delivered boxes to North London Community Consortium in Tottenham and St Margaret’s Church foodbank in Leytonstone, and we are now working through a list of foodbanks across three boroughs.

I am so pleased we decided to launch this birthday box initiative. Each day we realise more and more how important these boxes are to us, the people donating, and the families receiving them. Birthdays are special, children are special, and we think it’s important for children to mark their special occasion even in these challenging and uncertain times.

I hope we can continue to provide these boxes to families facing hardship after the pandemic, as there will always be children having a birthday in a household where lack of money is an issue.

For more information about My Birthday Box and to donate:
Instagram @My.Birthday.Box