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Megan Card, Published August 09 2012

Cheerful Givers expands into North Dakota with ‘birthday bag blitz’

FARGO – Robin Steele didn’t realize the impact she could make with the 12 gift bags full of goodies she dropped off at a food pantry in 1993.

But to a mother in tears that night at the pantry in Minnesota, Steele’s donation was the difference between the woman’s daughter receiving a present or a canned food item for her birthday.

After hearing the woman’s story, Steele saw the need for impoverished parents to celebrate their children’s birthday, and took action. By the end of 1994, Steele had Cheerful Givers off the ground in Minnesota with $5,000 of her own savings.

Eighteen years later, Cheerful Givers announced Thursday that it will expand its birthday assistance to needy families in North Dakota, thanks to a partnership with the Great Plains Food Bank based in Fargo.

“Knowing as a parent you can’t provide your child with that toy they wanted so badly for their birthday, it’s a terrible feeling,” Karen Kitchel, president of Cheerful Givers, said at a news conference in Fargo. “It not only affects the child, it has a major impact on the parent’s self-esteem.”

With one in 11 North Dakotans needing emergency food support, working parents are faced with these kinds of difficult decisions every day, said Marcia Paulson, director of marketing and development for the Great Plains Food Bank.

“Do I pay the electric bill, or do I get my child a toy for their birthday? It’s hard to imagine making that choice,” Paulson said.

In a birthday bag “blitz” sponsored by corporate partner AAA North Dakota after the news conference, 200 bags were stuffed with playing cards, small plush toys and slates with chalk by members of the business community.

The bags will be distributed throughout the Great Plains Food Bank statewide distribution system in North Dakota.

Gene LaDoucer, AAA spokesman, said the charity caught his group’s attention two years ago, and that AAA is excited to encourage other community businesses to get involved.

“As a father, it is hard to fathom not being able to provide my kids with a birthday gift,” LaDoucer said. “If our partnership can help a parent make their child’s birthday a special day, then we are happy to help.”

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