The Best Birthday Present of All

PHOTO: A party thrown by Birthday Wishes, who provides birthday parties for homeless children in Mass., R.I, and Long Island, N.Y.

For most of us, our kids' birthday parties become big parts of our lives.

But what we often forget is that there are children who don't ever get parties.

Ashley Zayas and her daughter Salma are homeless, forced to share a room in a shelter in Roxbury, Mass. After a series of evictions and family conflicts, Salma has never had a party, and they don't have enough money for one.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I was going to be living in a shelter," Ashley said.

So 11 years ago, Lisa Vasiloff, a mother of two, decided to do something about it. She created a charity called Birthday Wishes to give these kids the same joy she has given her two sons every year.

Click HERE to learn more about how to help give children their very own birthday party

Since 2002, the project has blossomed.

She now throws parties in 186 shelters across three states. Last year alone, she gave 19,000 homeless kids a chance to celebrate -- a total of 48,000 kids since the program's inception.

To bring joy to that many kids, Vasiloff works behind the scenes. In a small back room at a local church in Newton, Mass., donations of children's toys, decorations and stacks of donated cake mix tower over her. It's up to Vasiloff to weave through her inventory and make sure every party has what it needs.

Every month, more than 500 volunteers -- half of whom are kids and young adults -- sift through the 2,000 juice boxes, 1,200 birthday toys and 300 pairs of pajamas that are donated, along with roughly 1,500 goody bags assembled by groups, families and schools.

The cash budget is $500,000 and about $400,000 worth of in-kind party supply donations, but the majority of individual donations are less than $50.

Money children collect from lemonade stands and bake sales is sent to Birthday Wishes in envelopes with small amounts of cash and change. Recently, a boy named Ryan found $10 on the ground and wrote to Vasiloff: "Can you please donate it to people who really need it?"

Much of what is donated -- from dolls to Legos -- is given by other kids from their own birthday parties.

"This came in the other day from a 7-year-old's birthday party, and he donated all of his presents," Vasiloff said, pointing to a table filled with wrapped gifts.

For 2-year-old Roland Solo, the party thrown for him by Birthday Wishes was his first party ever. His mother had never had one either.

"It makes a huge difference in their life," Vasiloff said. "It takes the darkness out of their lives and lets them know that they're special."

Roland and Salma got their chance and had their party side by side. Roland blew bubbles for the first time, and Salma played Pin the Tail on the Pig.

"I want him to have the things that I never had when I was growing up," Princess said, of the importance of a birthday party for her son.

Vasiloff told ABC News that she would continue her work for as long as she could.

"When they're the center of attention even for that little minute, when they're standing in front of the cake that has their name written on it," said Vasiloff. "They do feel special and that's the whole idea."

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