Parties with a charitable twist



Photo by Paul Chmielowiec

Do you ever feel badly about all the money that is spent on birthday party presents for your kids – the ones they may already have, don’t like, don’t need and most probably will never play with? If your answer is yes, then maybe you should try this feel-good, philanthropic option created in 2008 by two Canadian moms.

Debbie Zinman, a former elementary school teacher, and Alison Smith, a former kids furniture and clothing designer, wanted their children to become more involved in charity work. At a chance meeting while picking up their children from a birthday party, they talked about their shared philosophy and what could be done about it.

They came up with ECHOage, an online party invitation service that collects money on behalf of guests and then divides the funds. Half goes toward a gift for the child and the other half is donated to a charity of the birthday boy or girl’s choosing. (The company charges the parents of the birthday child and the charity a small administration and credit card fee).

Since its launch, ECHOage has planned more than 15,000 parties across Canada and the United States, collaborating with more than 100,000 parents and guests, and partnering with approximately 250 charitable organizations.

Originally covering Ontario and Western Canada, ECHOage has recently made a concerted effort to promote the service in Montreal and has partnered with several local charities. “Parents love the beauty of just being able to contribute to a gift instantaneously online,” said company representative for eastern Canada Bonnie Levine.

The company has generated almost $2.5 million for charities across Canada and the United States. “It is quite astonishing to think that all that money would have gone into purchasing gifts; instead, kids are learning about charity and getting something from the giving-back process,” Levine said.

Parents who want to use ECHOage to plan their children’s parties log onto the website, customize their invitations, choose their gift and charity, and invite guests. In Montreal, ECHOage is working with several organizations, including The Montreal Children's Hospital, The Just for Kids Foundation, The Jewish General Hospital, The MAB-Mackay Rehabilitation Center, etc. As Levine explained, these organizations “are seeing the value in what we are offering.” Children are also learning about philanthropy.

“A child who gives to others is creating an echo at the time of their birthday,” Levine said, explaining the organization’s namesake. “The ‘echo’ is their voice saying that they want to live in a better world and that they want to see things happen in a more positive way.”

Meilina Lynch picked the Make-A-Wish Foundation as her charity when she turned 8 last February. Her mother Cheryl said “she was very happy and extremely proud to give money to people who need it rather than getting things she didn’t.” She likes to tell people that for her birthday “she gave to charity.”

Also, by several people contributing to towards one gift, it allows the child to choose a substantial present.

Children can follow along as the money rolls in for the charity of their choice. The charities acknowledge donations, sometimes by sending thank-you notes to the birthday boys and girls who’ve donated. This helps children know they have bettered the lives of others.

For more information, visit ECHOage.com.

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