Group of northern children with birthday balloons cake and party favours

Photography Courtesy Of The Northern Birthday Box Project

Birthday boxes ship party fun to Northern communities

A novel, national Facebook group ships sprinkles and streamers northward to help kids celebrate

Every year, the high school students of Dr. Norman Bethune Collegiate Institute in Scarborough hold a fundraising event for a charity of their choice. This year they didn’t just donate money—they chose to throw birthday parties for children thousands of kilometres away.

happy young boy in red shirt holding northern birthday box

The Northern Birthday Box Project is a nation-wide Facebook group run by three women who match sponsors from southern Canada with families in remote northern communities across the country. For those who live in the North, where the price of a carton of milk or a bag of sugar can be almost double what the rest of Canada pays, celebrating a birthday is a luxury many can’t afford. (Cake mix and icing alone can cost up to $15 each, if they’re available at all.)

Melissa Blom, who moderates the Facebook page and is a teacher librarian at the Scarborough high school, says that one of the boxes the students shipped this year contained several packs of candles. “In some cases, they can cost as much as $13 in the North—our students found that incredibly shocking,” she says.

young girl with birthday supplies from her northern birthday box

Each birthday box contains at least one box of cake mix, one container of icing and one decoration. Sponsors are given the name, age and interests of the child to help guide their purchases. With the money they raised, the students at Dr. Norman Bethune Collegiate went shopping themselves for things they thought the birthday celebrants would like most. “The fact the boxes are sent to a specific person, rather than to a nameless, faceless organization, had a big impact on the students,” Blom says. “It added a wonderful human dimension.”

Every month, the group ships about 200 boxes. Nukaja Tukai, from Inukjuak, Nunavik, received her birthday box just before she turned three. It was stuffed with Paw Patrol plates, cups and party hats, as well as cake mix, icing, candles, streamers and balloons. “She was so happy, she just couldn’t wait for her birthday,” said her mom Mary, via Facebook messenger. “This was the first time she ever had birthday supplies.”

young girl with craft supplies and food spread out in front of her

The Northern Birthday Box Project, which began modestly two years ago, now has almost 12,000 members. Every day, the Facebook page is flooded with comments of support and gratitude and, best of all, pictures of grinning kids opening their birthday boxes, or enjoying the parties they got to throw as a result of receiving them.

But it’s not just about the boxes, says Koreyan Peterson, one of the women behind the Project. “Sending a box is nice, but it’s the conversation that really matters,” she says. “Raising awareness about the disparity that exists in Canada is what counts most.”

Interested in sending a birthday box to a family in a Northern community? Just join the Facebook group and let the administrators know you’d like more information about becoming a sponsor.