Written by Annalisa Lim (volunteer extraordinaire)
I don’t know too much about my friend Peggy. I don’t know her whole story. I don’t know how she became homeless. I don’t know her last name. What I do know is that her birthday is October 15. Her favorite color is baby blue. She prefers yellow cake with white icing and her favorite pizza is thin crust with pepperoni and hamburger. She has a sensitive spirit and recognizes the power of God. That is all that I needed to know to help throw her a birthday party.
I became more involved with The Human Impact in mid-September, going out on Thursdays to meet with our friends on the street. I shared with Elisabeth my desire to throw a birthday party for someone on October 25th, the day my son Casey was born in 2017. Casey passed away the next day after living for 16 hours. It has been a road of grief and mourning. I wanted to figure out a way to honor him and celebrate his 1st birthday and all those that follow. Part of my revelation is that as real and impactful as my son is, the same is true of our friends on the street. There are strides to be made in validating the lives of babies who don’t make it into this world. The same can be said of people who are homeless. They are here. They are people. There is a purpose for their existence. I started to see my son in those people on the streets.
Peggy happened to have an October birthday, and The Human Impact invited me to help plan her party. My heart was overjoyed that they were allowing me to do this. So the planning began! Each week we were on the streets, we would get a little more information from Peggy about her birthday preferences.
The day arrived and we had our decorations, food, and birthday gifts and cards all set up. We held Peggy’s party in the courtyard of CitySquare, a non-profit located one block over from Austin Street Center where Peggy stays each night. This was a very special “invite only” party, and Peggy hand selected the guests. We weren’t sure what to expect of an “invite-only” party on the streets. We had concerns that people may not respect Peggy’s party, especially since we were bringing along quite the food spread. But something amazing happened that day. When people came up asking for food, we would kindly let them know that this was Peggy’s party and we deferred to her judgment. Most everyone recognized and respected this universal tradition of a birthday celebration, wished Peggy a happy birthday, and continued on their way. I realized that day and am still reflecting on how a birthday party is a universal human experience, whether a person is homeless or not. Celebrating life united us that afternoon.
Peggy was wide eyed through her whole party with the cards, present, decorations, food, and even some unexpected entertainment provided by a friend who could sing! Peggy got to call all the shots that day. She wanted to cut and serve her cake, so that is what she did. She chose when it was time to eat lunch, time for cake, time to pack up, and what to do with the leftovers. The birthday girl gets what she wants! It’s a beautiful thing to witness power restored to the homeless, a people group often left vulnerable and powerless.
I am hopeful that we will see these birthday parties for our friends on the streets happen more often. Everyone has a birthday and everyone should be celebrated. Happy birthday, Peggy. Thanks for letting us celebrate you and sharing with us what YOU want.
A special thank you to The Birthday Party Project for supporting this special event by providing birthday decorations.