Nonprofit spreads birthday cheer to local youth in foster care

Apr 4, 2021

Birthdays were always important in Mary Nogueras’ family. 

But when her foster son became part of her family, she discovered he hadn’t had the same experience. Birthdays were a time of mixed emotions for him.

Nogueras explained that he had been removed from his biological parents’ care for several years and spent “a great amount of his young life” in the care of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. 

It was her son’s experiences that inspired Nogueras to start the Onset-based nonprofit, The Gifted Crate.

“We wanted to ensure that these kids and teenagers are still celebrated,” she said.

The Gifted Crate, which launched in fall 2020, was designed to support foster parents and ensure that kids and teens in foster care receive a customized “birthday crate” to celebrate their special day. 

“In this crate is everything you need to have a small birthday celebration,” Nogueras said. “It’ll include a cake mix, candles, party supplies — like a tablecloth, cake plates and banners — and a couple of gifts based on the kids’ or teenagers’ interests or requests.”

Nogueras — the organization’s co-founder and executive director — said the crates are valued between $50 to $100.

The Gifted Crate works with social workers in the region to deliver the crates to children. Social workers request a crate, and The Gifted Crate’s team of six volunteers assemble and deliver the crate.

Nogueras recalled how the crates have had lasting impacts on several kids’ lives. The Gifted Crate recently provided a foster mom with some special birthday surprises for one pre-teen boy whose father left the country, leaving the boy in the state’s care, she said.

The boy had a new bike — but he didn’t have a helmet. With that in mind, his birthday crate came with a helmet, a set of Legos and an action camera so he could document his adventures on video.

“He just spent hours with the Legos he received and with his social worker,” Nogueras said. “It’s those stories that really tug at us. That’s why we’re here.”

Although the gifts are chosen to suit the kids’ interests, they’re not the only things that make the crates special.

“Another pre-teen we had a couple months ago, she told her social worker that she’s been in care since she was a toddler and it was her first birthday with party plates,” Nogueras said. “Those little things we take for granted — it’s just maybe a dollar from the Dollar Tree. [...] But these kids have gone without it.”

On top of guaranteeing a festive celebration, The Gifted Crate’s staff and volunteers also hope to strengthen the foster family bonds, Nogueras said. 

“[The foster parents] don’t even have to claim that [the crate] is from an organization, because we understand the stigma of feeling like everything is just a charity,” she said. The creates “are essentially given to families to help them bond or strengthen their bond that they already have with the kids in their care.”

The Gifted Crate’s decision to package their birthday supplies in banker’s boxes instead of birthday gift bags, for example, was also intentional.

“We want [the kids] to reuse this crate maybe for memorabilia and things they collect throughout the years while in care,” Nogueras said. “Either they can bring it back home when they reunify with their parents or if they move on toward adoption they can reuse that box to hold on to momentos.”

The Gifted Crate is located at 211 Onset Avenue, in the basement of the building that houses Ebb and Flow. The space isn’t really open to the public, but it is where crates are organized, Nogueras said. 

She said Onset is a great location for the nonprofit because the organization has already provided a lot of kids in Wareham with birthday crates. 

“It’s kind of a central hub for us,” Nogueras said, noting that the Department of Children & Families’ Cape Cod, New Bedford and Plymouth offices were all in close proximity. Social workers from those offices send in requests for crates, she said. 

The organization has received requests for 32 crates in April. 

“The amount of [requests for] crates we’re getting means the word is spreading, but it also means there’s a lot of kids in DCF care, so it’s a little bittersweet,” Nogueras said. 

With the increased demand, she outlined a number of ways community members can show their support: 

• Hosting drives for toys and gifts for older children

• Volunteering as “crate couriers” who deliver crates to social workers

• Donating money (on Venmo, the organization is @TheGiftedCrate) or items from The Gifted Crate’s wishlist 

Businesses are also asked to donate spare banker’s boxes or to volunteer their time to help pack crates. For more information about donating, visit the organization’s donation page here: