“Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday, dear Joy.
Happy birthday to you.”
Like most of you, the people I love have gathered around a birthday cake and sung these words to me every year of my life without fail.
Some of our best memories as kids revolve around our birthday celebrations. Truly, it was the one day of the year that we got to “have our cake and eat it, too.”
Sadly, though, not all kids have precious birthday memories. For some, birthdays can be accidentally overlooked when kids are living in foster care, homeless shelters, or other tenuous situations. Other times, parents do all they can to make ends meet, and birthday celebrations are not possible financially.
It’s simple: food, shelter, and safety take priority over birthday cakes, candles, and gifts.
When 11-year-old Bentley Biesinger realized and fully understood this truth, he determined to do something about it for the kids in his community.
Bentley lives with his parents and two younger brothers in Lee County, Mississippi, where he attends Mooreville Middle School. There, as a member of the school’s Beta Club, he had been contemplating ideas to fulfill the club’s required hours of community service for the semester.
Now, Bentley is no stranger to serving others. His mom Meredith and dad Bryce live out their faith daily in front of their boys. As a family, they collect and take food to the local food pantry.
But it just so happened that November was his birthday month, and Bentley wanted to do something different to celebrate turning 12, something that would help other kids. And his thoughts turned to kids whose families needed the food pantry. It broke his heart to think about kids not having a birthday – or even a birthday cake.
“In my house,” said Bentley, “birthdays are a big deal, and my Mama and Dad try to make things special for us. I wanted to try and make something special for kids who might not have much of a birthday.”
So, driving home from church one Wednesday night, they came up with the idea to give kids a “birthday bag,” using a can of soda to make a birthday cake instead of ingredients like eggs, butter, etc.
The next day, Meredith made an announcement on Facebook asking friends and family if they might be willing to donate a cake mix and icing for Bentley’s birthday bag project.
“It was crazy!” Bentley explained, “We had people dropping off cake mixes at the house and meeting my Mama in the car rider line at school. Cake mixes were on our front porch, on our back porch, and some cake mixes and icing got sent home with my little brothers from elementary school.
“We also had really nice friends donate extras like cake toppers, candles, and sprinkles, and my kindergarten teacher from Purvis, Mississippi, even mailed me $10 to buy supplies!”
In barely two weeks, all the items needed for the birthday bags were donated, even handmade cards, so the Biesinger family began sorting and bagging the items.
“My middle school Discovery class made a bunch of birthday cards to go in the bags, too,” said Bentley, “Then, my family and I sat down one night at the kitchen table and made about 14 more, so each bag would have a card.”
When all the work was completed, the birthday bags were ready to go to a waiting boy or girl in the surrounding community.
Just as Bentley had imagined, on his or her birthday, each child would now receive a bag with a cake mix, a can of icing, a soda, a cake topper, a birthday card, and a little extra happy, like sprinkles or a balloon.
“We also typed up directions,” said Bentley, “on how to make this kind of cake and taped the directions onto each cake box. After all the bags were sorted, we loaded them into the car.
“I couldn’t really help with that because I broke my ankle a few days earlier playing football, so it was my job to inspect each bag one last time to make sure they had everything they needed before they went into Mama’s car.”
Bentley and his family delivered the bags to St. Luke’s Food Pantry in nearby Tupelo, Mississippi, the Thursday morning before Thanksgiving.
“We had set up a time to get there right at 8:00,” Bentley shared. “But when we got there, the line went all the way down the road, and they asked us to come back at 12.
“I remember looking at my Mama and saying, ‘We need a lot more bags.’ I guess I didn’t realize how many people in our area are hungry and need food.”
When they returned to the food pantry at noon, Bentley and his family delivered 32 birthday bags.
“My goal was 30 bags,” explained Bentley, “because there are 30 days in November. We were able to donate two more, and since then, a few more people have donated cake mixes or even whole birthday bags, so we’re going to do another drop-off after Thanksgiving!”
Bentley wants to keep packing and delivering the birthday bags, making it a regular part of his family’s life.
“Somewhere in Tupelo,” remarked Bentley, “a kid has a birthday every day. Wouldn’t it be cool if they knew they could get a birthday cake and a little happy from the food pantry? It’s not much, but it feels good to help people.”
He also encourages kids in other cities and states to help with this birthday bag project or maybe even carry out their own ideas for serving those around them.
“Sometimes,” said Bentley, “I think kids think they can’t do much, but we can. An idea can turn into something big, especially if you have people to help you. My advice: If you have an idea, go with it! Talk to your parents, or teachers, or even your friends; you never know what might happen.”
And with wisdom and compassion uncommon for someone his age, Bentley concluded, “I love my birthday month, and this was kind of like a present from me to other kids who might have birthdays around this time. I hope it makes them smile.”
It will, Bentley. Just the thought of your birthday bags reaching the hands of those boys and girls made a whole lot of adults smile as well.
“Happy birthday, dear Bentley. Happy birthday to you!”