Last Updated on Thursday, 24 February 2011 22:38 Thursday, 24 February 2011 13:29
Maria Leon and her family are regular volunteers at the FOCUS Gateway City weekly meals. As active participants with the working poor and homeless in the area the center serves, Leon wasn’t surprised when her father turned their conversation about her fifteenth birthday to the less fortunate.
“My Dad and I were talking about my birthday coming up and I remember him saying, ‘I wonder when was the last birthday party they attended?’” Leon said. “It really got me thinking.”
Leon decided to have her fifteenth birthday party at the Sunday night FOCUS Gateway Center meal.
“I wanted to have cake and ice cream, a real party,” Leon said. “I was hoping that celebrating my birthday with them would remind them of happy memories the might have from their childhood.”
Leon didn’t just offer to bring cake and ice cream to the meal, she decided she would invite all her friends to celebrate with her and to serve those in need as well. And instead of bringing presents for Leon, presents were offered by Leon and her friends and family to the guests attending the weekly meal.
“We knew there was a need for men’s items so we brought men’s gloves, hats, scarves, shoes and sweatpants,” Leon said. “I felt really good about celebrating my birthday at the center. Seeing the smiles and how happy people were was great. Some even cried because they were so thankful.”
Eric Shanburn, FOCUS Gateway City Director, said the guests were so blessed by the night. “One of the guests said, ‘We should be giving her gifts but instead she gave us gifts,’” Shanburn said. “It was a great night. The guests embraced it, wore party hats and we all sang ‘Happy Birthday.’”
And Leon’s friends were touched by the night as well. “A few of my friends that came to the party said they want to come back and help us serve a meal again some time.”
What about her sixteenth birthday? Leon said maybe celebrating with those less fortunate will become a trend for her.