116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — When you’re a kid, birthdays are a big deal. But sometimes, due to a whole host of life circumstances, celebrating a kid’s birthday in a big way isn’t always possible.
That’s where Box of Balloons comes in. The University of Iowa student group creates birthday celebration boxes — with a gift, games, a birthday cake and decorations, and more — for children in need.
The boxes go to children, typically ages 1 through 12, who are in foster care or whose families are facing tough financial times.
The Box of Balloons nonprofit was founded in 2013 in Wisconsin. UI students started the Iowa chapter in Iowa City a few years ago.
“When I first got involved, we were making birthday cards,” said Hope Halligan, president of the Iowa City chapter. “When I found out more about the organization, I thought it was really super cool, and I wanted to join in and just get my volunteer hours doing something that was fun.
“But then I started feel really passionate about what we were doing and just ran with it. I love that we can give back in this way.”
Halligan, a UI junior majoring in psychology, became involved with Box of Balloons through her sorority, Pi Beta Phi, when she was a freshman. As the chapter’s secretary last year, she served on the 12-member executive board.
The UI students gain experience through the volunteer work, she said, connecting with schools, social service agencies and Big Brothers Big Sisters to find children for the birthday boxes.
“We were kind of struggling with getting requests at the beginning of the year, so we had students reach out to let them know what we do,” Halligan said.
The people submitting a child’s name also provide the child’s age, favorite color and possible themes for the birthday surprise.
“Then we’ll decorate and fill a box based on that,” Halligan said.
Common themes include LEGOS, unicorns and rainbows. This month, the students are making a Halloween birthday box, an art party box and a YouTube-themed box.
Each box, she said, has about $100 worth of items to make a child’s birthday special.
Box of Balloons also works with Cakes From the Heart, which provides a decorated birthday cake for each box.
“Students are always encouraged to invite friends and family to contribute to the boxes,” she said.
President: Hope Halligan
Address: Iowa City
Fundraiser: 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24, at Wilson’s Orchard, 4823 Dingleberry Rd. NE, Iowa City
How it works
The group meets as a group several times a month to stay organized, plan for upcoming boxes and decorate and fill boxes.
On average, Halligan said, they complete three to six birthday boxes per month. Each box is hand-delivered by a student to the child’s family.
“When we package them, we package the wrapping paper, the bow, the candles and stuff separately,” Halligan added. “When the box is handed off to the families, the parents are able to wrap the present and help make it special for them, too.
“I think that’s important in really making families feel comfortable with reaching out and asking for help.”
The organization has grown in the past year, Halligan said.
“I think we are up to 70 members now,” she said. “I think after last year, people are just so eager to be involved and are excited to be able to do things like this.
“Everyone wants to contribute and, obviously, more members means that we're able to deliver more boxes. We have members doing everything from picking up the cakes to dropping off the boxes.”
Through Box of Balloons, Halligan added, “we get to work as a team and communicate to deliver something for a much greater purpose than any of us, and that’s just really rewarding.”
The Box of Balloons team is hosting a fundraiser from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24, at Wilson’s Orchard, 4823 Dingleberry Rd NE, Iowa City. Wilson’s will donate 10 percent of sales for the day to Box of Balloons.
“This is our big fundraiser of the semester, so we are encouraging people to come out and pick apples and pumpkins and go on tractor rides and eat apple cider doughnuts,” Halligan said.
“We will use all of the money raised to build more birthday boxes.”
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