No Gift Receipt Required

“I do not want a party!” Kathe Swanson insisted to her husband, as her 50th birthday approached. What she did want was to be surrounded by friends and family—with everybody doing something important, something life-changing. By the look in her eye, he could also tell that she already knew what that something was going to be.

Swanson wanted to pack it up. Food, lots of food, to feed the hungry. And she wanted her friends to help her.

Holy Cross Lutheran Church of Libertyville (where Swanson is a member) is this year’s Feed My Starving Children MobilePack sponsor and will be gathering folks to assemble life-saving food packets to aid starving children in more than 60 countries. During the 2008 packing event in Gurnee, 1,500 volunteers assembled 300,000 meals. The goal this year: 1,000,000 meals.

Each “cell” of 12 to 15 volunteers will be competing to out-pack other cells at the new Lake County Fair Grounds in Mundelein on Dec. 4 to 6.

Naturally, Swanson wants her loved ones to celebrate her special day by coming together in support of a common cause. The Feed My Starving Children organization is one whose mission matches Swanson’s own hopes for helping the world’s hungry. “It’s next to impossible to watch a video of starving children without being brought to tears,” Swanson says. “So after I cried, I decided to be brought to action.”

The Swansons have signed up 50 of their friends. “Any money that might have gone to a 50th gag gift will go 50 times further as a donation,” she says.

“People like Kathe are incredibly inspiring to me,” says Christine Hallenbeck, marketing associate at Feed My Starving Children ( Hallenbeck sees the bent toward community-service birthday parties as “absolutely a trend.”

“They’re all over the country … people of all walks of life coming together.”

Elsewhere in the Chicago suburbs, Linda and Robert Bruce have found their own innovative way to rally friends and benefit a cause. The Bruces just sponsored their 3rd annual Bruce’s Fall Chili Shindig, where, instead of balloons, guests find a LifeSource mobile unit parked in front of the Bruces’ home.

“We’ve been having a fall party for 15 years,” Linda Bruce says. “People would bring tons of little gifts we really don’t need.” Determined to do something different and meaningful, Bruce came up with the blood-drive idea.

The Bruces send invitations that read: “Please bring no hostess gift and instead donate blood, if you’re able.” The drive is advertised by signage on the street, resulting in neighbor turnout and an occasional walk-in.

The Bruces’ first two drives tallied 110 donations and 86 pints of blood. Their party last October netted 46 pints of blood.
If you’d like to host your own blood-drive party, all you need is a commitment of 40 people, and you can have a mobile donor site parked curbside.