Why My 5-Year-Old had no Toys at his Birthday Party by Katie Kimball


Meet my son, Paul.

He’s five years old.

And we’re really proud of him.

Paul forfeited gifts at his fifth birthday party (the kids’ version) in lieu of food for Kids Food Basket, a local organization that provides sack suppers for school kids who might otherwise go home hungry. Besides that, he willingly (more or less) left his friends playing outside to volunteer to make sandwiches for an entire school.

family works

It was the best part of my year so far.

Paul Volunteers at Kids Food Basket

on our way

Excited to be on our way with just Mommy and Daddy. Little sister Leah was too young to come along.

Paul with food to donate

We donated one really BIG bag of non-perishables and sandwich baggies.

washing hands

We washed our hands to get ready to work.

Paul makes sandwiches

Our assignment was to make 85 peanut butter sandwiches, which would feed one entire school’s worth of kids in the program.

Paul spreads peanut butter

Just peanut butter on bread; no jelly. It was hard to figure out how thick to make them. At home I would make really thick, delicious sandwiches, but here I felt like I needed to stretch the peanut butter more. ???

lots of sandwiches

We made sandwich after sandwich, hitting our mark of 85 and going beyond on our way to helping feed this many kids:kids fed

Paul was so highly motivated. He loved spreading the peanut butter on bread, especially since he got to wear gloves so his hands didnít get sticky. We talked about the fact that some other 5-year-olds would probably eat the sandwich he made, and we prayed for those we were serving from time to time (my “kitchen prayer” in action).


After a while, he asked if he could help fill the bags, and the concentration on his face as he got to the end of the line and trucked back to the beginning was truly priceless. He could barely reach into the boxes.

packing bags

The Contents of the Lunch

juice pretzels granola bars cherry tomatoesbananas sandwiches

How to Feed the World Real Food with Less Waste

I don’t know the answer.

I hate that.

At one point while spreading peanut butter on the outside of a heel of bread, I said, ìThis is almost unethical for me,î referring to making white bread sandwiches with hydrogenated fat-laden peanut butter. *hair stands on end* (How I feel about trans fats.) It was hard to think about feeding kids food I knew was bad for them.

The alternative, though, is letting kids dig through the dumpster for food after school, which is what one principal found her students doing that inspired the creation of Kids Food Basket in the first place.

Sometimes you have to take what you can get.

I also started to think about the waste of single serving packages, and especially of the plastic spoons I was asked to purchase, knowing that most of the children would be eating the meal at home. I understand packing the ìwhole mealî though. What if thereís not a clean spoon in the home? Itís important that these kids are given dignity along with dinner, and they donít need any reminders that the food and financial situation in their house is so dismal.

Is the Purpose “Full” or “Nourished”?

The question of hungry people being “full” vs. being “nourished” is a tangled one, and there’s no easy answer. As much as I wish I could have been making roasted organic chicken and real cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread with homemade mayo…that’s just not going to happen. The donations that come in, from private individuals and other organizations like Gleaners or America’s Second Harvest, simply must be used, and when white bread is all you have, you just feed the children.

I was told that this year, they’re serving a lot more fruits and vegetables, which I was really excited to hear.

On the flip side, even that isn’t probably as positive as it sounds. I kept wondering how many of the little baggies of cherry tomatoes in that day’s meals found their final resting place in the trash can, along with the cucumbers from the day before. How many kids will eat a random bag of vegetables, with no dip, especially when it’s likely their parents aren’t going to make them?

Speaking of those plastic baggies, I also couldn’t help thinking, ìFake Plastic Fish would have a heart attack if she could see this.î

We used lots and lots of plastic bags, but what is the alternative? A charitable organization canít spend the extra money on waxed paper bags, and that would still create a mountain of waste, and you canít give the kids reusables because youíd never get them back, and how would you keep them straight if you could?

The joy I felt in volunteering was tempered by all these not-nutritious and not-eco-friendly considerations.

A Well-Oiled Machine

The feat of serving over 2500 kids a sack supper every weekday is an incredible one, especially for a grassroots non-profit organization like Kids Food Basket that was only serving four schools and a few hundred kids six years ago when I got involved with them. Their facility is a small one, with lunchbag food tucked into every corner.

On our tour, I was happy to see

fresh vegetablesand not surprised to see:lots of cheeseThere was also real cheese. real cheese Again, you just have to take what you can get.

Paul was thrilled to get to sign his name

signing namePaul's name on cooler

on the cooler wall: names on cooler

The director also shared with us some thank you letters from some of the kids they serve:

IMG_9622 IMG_9620

This reminded me that the school teachers can make a big impact on their students’ nutrition, and I bet they’re reminding the kids to eat their vegetables. “Delicious vegetables!” Doesn’t that just warm your heart!?

I’m proud that 85 kids had a sack dinner because of our volunteer efforts, and I pray that the tomatoes and bananas got as much face time as the PB sandwiches and granola bars. I’m really, really proud of my son Paul, who had a fabulous experience his first time volunteering, and wore his new T-shirt for the next two days.

Donations to food banks are notoriously low this time of year (summer), so I want to encourage you to find one in your community and think of the hungry with a gift of some sort this month. What will you bring? Is it possible to feed hungry people nourishing foods, or at least something closer to real food than the cheapest peanut butter on white bread?

What do you think? How do we change the paradigm of cheap food for the hungry?

Copyright 2010 Katie Kimball


About Author

We welcome guest contributors who graciously volunteer their writing for our readers. Please support our guest writers by visiting their sites, purchasing their work, and leaving comments to thank them for sharing their gifts here on CatholicMom.com. To inquire about serving as a guest contributor, contact editor@CatholicMom.com.


  1. I think this is a great idea. My husband thinks that a child should not have to give up birthday presents for this.

    Question was this his idea or yours. and did you have to talk him into it?

    Like I said I think it is a good idea, but would like to know whose idea it was.

  2. Oh Katie, this is something my husband an I have talked about doing with the kids for so long. You’ve inspired me to find a food bank or somewhere similar that my older kids and I can volunteer before the summer is over. I love the pictures. Your son’s smile just radiates. What a great birthday for him.

  3. Debbie,
    It was definitely my idea. I originally thought he could get toys and then donate them, but my husband said it would be WAY too hard to see toys and then give them away, no matter what my son said before the party. I’m kind of a stickler about the “stuff” in our house, and he’s had to give some toys away when he gets a new one every so often lately. He doesn’t like giving toys away, so that was a starting point for talking to him about how he might not want/need a toy from all his friends. We downplayed it when actually at the party, and that helped I think. He’d never even been to a kids’ birthday party before, so he didn’t really know what he was missing!

    We still gave him stuff, and all the grandparents dote and give gifts, so he didn’t have to go toyless for his birthday, don’t worry! 🙂 Katie

  4. First of all, I love this story. What a great way to teach your child empathy and serving someone in need!

    To answer your question, it’s one I have wrestled with. And my circumstances the last year have meant I have been now on the receiver side of help, a tough one. Think of all the food pantry donations you did at school as a child. You bought cheap ramen, etc. not because it’s healthy but because it was bulky. People tend to donate what’s cheap or what they’re not using in their home. Makes for some interesting results in pantries. : )

    What we need to start thinking about is how we can help nourish people in times of trouble, not simply feed them. If you’re donating pasta, donate the protein-enriched one. If you’re donating pasta sauce, donate the low-sugar one or ones with extra veggies. If you’re donating cereal, choose healthier options, not sugar-laden kids cereals. And if you’re gardening this season, share your stash with St. Vincent de Paul – they are happily accepting fresh produce!

    Finally, one thing we did as a service project at work, was we took a list of common food pantry items and created recipe sheets around them. (Just copied favorites, or downloaded easy recipes from the intranet). These were shared with the pantry we were partnering with. It’s amazing how many people’s reperatoires end at Hamberger Helper.

    I’ll end there. Thanks for listening!

Leave A Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.