Northern Birthday Box Project spreads joy across the North

A Facebook group is looking to give all Canadian children an equal chance at having a fun birthday celebration, no matter how far north they live.

The Northern Birthday Box Project was created in 2016 to assist in bringing birthday fun to kids aged 1 to 17 that live in remote or fly-in/fly-out Canadian communities where party supplies are limited or completely inaccessible. They match interested sponsors to children with upcoming birthdays, who then fill a box with decorations and birthday items before sending it up north.

Koreyan Peterson has been an active admin for the group since being invited to the page after its creation nearly six years ago.

“Right around 2009, there was a lot of information in the news about the high cost of living up north, and there was a Facebook group that opened up that was sharing how expensive it was getting groceries and everything else in these communities.” Peterson said in an interview with the Northern Advocate. “From there, a couple people decided to buy and send birthday supplies. It originally started with just a small shoebox and people would send their leftover supplies up north.”

Peterson said a few other groups with the same idea popped up over the years but were ultimately unsuccessful.

“When those groups were shut down, another person opened up our group. She was trying to do it on her own and it wasn’t working until she invited five of us to be admins for it.”

At the time of Peterson joining The Northern Birthday Box Project, there were under 1,000 members. After receiving media coverage out in Ontario, the group slowly grew to around 6,000 people. Recently, a popular internet influencer, Living on a Loonie, discovered the group and created a TikTok video about it. Due to her wide following, more than 5,000 people joined in one week.

Currently, the group is sitting at around 40,000 members.

As of Jan. 2021, The Northern Birthday Box Project has sent more than 11,000 boxes filled with party supplies. Peterson said on average, 300 birthday boxes are sent per month to children living all over the north. The group automatically accepts applications for birthday kids from all northern Canadian communities, as long as they are remote or fly-in/fly-out, even for part of the year.

Peterson said the basic requirement to receive a birthday box is residing three or four hours away from the nearest center in an area where the cost of living is higher than other Canadian communities; economic status and income is not taken into consideration.

“Our goal is to alleviate some of the costs for people living in those remote areas,” explained Peterson.

Caregivers of children with an upcoming birthday that fit these requirements can message The Northern Birthday Box Project on Facebook and fill out an application through messenger. Peterson said guardians must apply at least two months before the birthday to give the group’s admins time to find a match, allow the sponsor time to shop, and for the box to be mailed to their home.

Birthday boxes must contain a cake mix, icing, candles, and enough supplies for a fun party – a minimum of four decorations, said Peterson.

“Kids give us their theme, their favourite colour, they tell us what kind of cake and icing they want. From there, people can send whatever they want,” she said. “We just ask them to limit to it to one box.”

Peterson said some examples of other items that have been sent in birthday boxes are toys, stuffed animals, things for treat bags, or an outfit for the birthday kid.

“We have some sponsors that are actually really cool and go above and beyond for their birthday box,” she said. “There was one child, he was turning 16 and his theme was zombies. So [the sponsor] sent up all these chocolate bars she had rewrapped with fun zombie labels and all different kinds of things, so he could have a good zombie themed party, which was really creative.”

Just like everything else in the world, the Northern Birthday Box Project was forced to shut down for two months during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The group tentatively restarted sending birthday boxes to children once again but were limited to only 125 kids per month because there weren’t enough sponsors to match with families. With the influx of members since the viral TikTok video, the group has been able to lift their limits once again.

“Last time I looked, we had well over 3,000 people waiting to send a box,” said Peterson. “If you could imagine, up until a couple weeks ago we were still only taking 125 people per month. We would tell people we were sorry, but we had to cut the list, please apply next year. Now we’re trying to get the news out there to everybody, like, ‘hey, we’re open again, send us your applications, we can send boxes to your kids!”

There are currently more sponsors waiting to send than families who have applied for a birthday box, so it’s going to take a long time to get everyone their match, said Peterson, “but it’s a good problem to have.”

Peterson was inspired to get involved with The Northern Birthday Box Project after reconnecting with her Indigenous roots.

“I’m Wolastoqiyik from New Brunswick, so when I started to learn more about the reasons why people were living where they were in the north and learning about how expensive it is, it touched my heart,” Peterson said. “One of the things that I like about our project is that it’s a really easy way to get people to learn more about the true history of Canada, there’s that reconciliation piece.”

Peterson said every child deserves a birthday party, no matter where they live.

“Hopefully we provide that source of fun for the kids,” she noted.

While The Northern Birthday Box Project currently has a long waiting list, they are always welcoming people interested in sending boxes.

“Birthdays happen every year, we will never turn them away.”

Interested birthday box sponsors or caregivers of children from remote northern Canadian communities with an upcoming birthday can join the Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1692466914374665.

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