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Group gives kids special birthday
Amanda Hirsch, chapter leader of the Monroe Box of Balloons organization, drops off a box full of birthday party goodies to Parkside Elementary School recently. Each box is personalized for a child whose parents are unable to pay for a birthday party. To order this photo, click here. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - Birthdays are a cause for celebration at any age, but they are an especially important milestone for a young person gathering with friends and enjoying sweets under a colorful banner of favorite characters.

However, for some children, this party is more of a dream than a reality. According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, more than 40 percent of all students enrolled in the Monroe school district were below the poverty line last year. In families with less to spare, a princess-themed birthday bash or a dinosaur cake for a dozen friends are more difficult commodities to provide for their children. That's where Box of Balloons comes in.

Amanda Hirsch coordinates the local Box of Balloons group as the Monroe chapter leader. The organization has provided a box of items necessary for birthday parties since 2013. Supplies include cupcakes, plastic cutlery, streamers, balloons and other decorations. Currently, the drive has a partnership with Parkside Elementary School and is being implemented at Northside Elementary. Hirsch hopes to expand to other schools within the district. Volunteers assemble the box and then drop it off to the school, which then passes it on to a parent of the child.

"Our hope is to provide birthdays to children who otherwise wouldn't have them," Hirsch said. "It's something you don't think about with the focus on food and water, but it is an important day for a child."

Each recipient is given a specialized box to fit his or her preferences. They answer questions specific to their interests, and the box is assembled based on the answer. Hirsch said recently she delivered a LEGO-themed box of party supplies; others are based on favorite colors while others are comprised of favorite Disney characters.

"I just want them to feel special," Hirsch said. "You want to give a memorable party. It's hard to think so many kids don't even get a cupcake or a candle."

Hirsch said her goal is to provide the birthday box to children throughout the county, including to those outside of the district. She plans to continue the program throughout the summer by working with the local library as a drop-off location.

Hirsch added that the organization is running a special campaign in February called "Spread the Love" which allows a family to support the organization by donating in the name of a loved one. Family members can either acknowledge the honoree by filling a box themselves or donating $50 to create one.

Hirsch also said Box of Balloons has been looking for volunteers to help with assembly. Businesses can sponsor boxes as well. Interested volunteers can email or visit the organization's website for more information.