As one of the three administrators of the Northern Birthday Box Project, Koreyan Peterson helps to make children in northern communities birthday wishes come true. If you’ve not heard of the project, the basic premise is to match a sponsor family with a family in a remote First Nation community where costs for the necessities for a birthday party are prohibitive, and choices are limited even if goods are available. The sponsor family sends a cake mix and decorations, as well as whatever extras they’d like to include.
The project has been hugely successful, especially since it was featured on CBC a few weeks ago. There are currently 9,600 people in the Northern Birthday Box Project Facebook group, made up of people that want to sponsor a box, and families that would like one for their kid. “Normally in a month I’ll have about 100–150 boxes being sent out, but in the past two weeks I had over 1000 people reach out wanting to send one, which is fantastic,” says Peterson.
We wanted to find out more about Peterson’s involvement in the project, and how she manages to fit this into her busy life as a grade six teacher at Kitscoty Elementary, AB, and mom to a busy eight and ten year old.
Why did you start doing what you do?
I first sent a box with my family in 2014, and thought this is amazing, and then my class and I sent three boxes up to children. I got involved when the person who was organizing the group got overwhelmed and had to step away. That’s when Kaitlyn Lalonde, Bobbi Montean, and myself stepped in. Recently two moderators joined to help us, because since the CBC article our group doubled in population in two weeks. I feel like I have the best part of the job, because I’m responsible for contacting the sponsors and handling all the messages saying, “Please can I give,” and then I do the matching part.
What does this work bring to your life?
A huge amount of joy. As moms, we all know how important birthday parties are to celebrate. These are times that communities can get together and celebrate something joyful. Kids love theme parties — one year my son wanted to do an Angry Birds party for example — but that stuff’s just not available in these communities, they get the basic supplies and that’s it.
Why is this work important?
People always ask why I do this, and partly it’s for the boxes and the joy they bring to these kids, but more so it is for raising that awareness for what’s happening to Canadians in our own country. With all the reconciliation issues, I think we need people to think, “Why do we even have to do this?” and think about the social and political story around having to supply birthday boxes to people who live within Canada. This is a really non-confrontational way to provoke those thoughts. We aren’t supporting those people, it’s not charity, it’s just celebrating with them, and from there being able to open that discourse about, “What else can I do?”
This has really resonated with my kids too. Last year when my daughter got money for her birthday, she looked around and said, “Mom, I don’t need anything, can I sponsor a box on my own?” And of course your heart just about bursts out of your chest when they do something like that, it was so exciting.
What do your kids think about what you do?
Before the CBC article this was quite manageable and I was putting in four to five hours a week, which sounds like a lot but I loved it because it was a way for me to volunteer and be in my pajamas the whole time. I’d do it after my kids were in bed, or in the morning before anyone was up, and it was really my thing. If I’d had a really bad day, I’d go do my boxes because it would really fill my bucket.
My children have been so patient with me in the past few weeks since things got really busy. My daughter has even been trained a little bit on the computer so that she can input things for me, and some of the welcome messages that people were getting were actually from my son who was typing them on my phone while I was driving.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other parents about living with purpose?
Do something that you love and makes you happy. I think that’s part of the reason that my family are okay with me doing this is that I’m so passionate about the birthday boxes, and raising awareness of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis issues in Canada. We are Maliseet First Nations, and this is all part of my personal journey to learn more about my heritage, and wanting to help is a big part of that.
My family are happy because they are seeing me do something that I love to do, and they are also inspired to do something themselves because they see their mommy doing this. It’s taken me 39 years to figure out that setting time aside to do something that’s important for me benefits everyone.
What do you think you have in common with other moms?
We all want our children to be happy, and I think that’s why this project resonates with so many people, because a birthday party is a really simple way of providing happiness for your child. It might be a fleeting happiness, just one day of spoiling your kid, and no matter what your life circumstances are, for most people that’s what you try and do.
What’s been hardest about what you do?
Sometimes it is hard to trust that people are going to follow through with what they say they’re going to do. You say you’re going to send a box, but there’s no real accountability — we ask for tracking numbers, but I can’t go knock on your door and say, “Did you or didn’t you send a box?” When somebody can’t do it and lets me know, my response is always, “Thanks for letting me know, I have somebody else I can line up.” But, it quite often happens that people don’t send a box, and don’t let us know. When we find out this happens, we line something up and send the kid a box the very next day — it might be late for the kids’ birthday, but they do get something.
Tell me about other moms that you admire?
There are so many, that’s a big question! This might sound silly but I think moms I admire the most are ones that are kind. I get really stressed and feel like there are times when I’m not super kind and patient with my kids. I have a good friend who lives down the street and when she gives her children heck, and she is dealing with all these other stresses in her life, she is always so genuine and kind. I can tell that her kids are so important to her, and that’s the kind of mom I want to be like. I want to have that essence!
The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Come join us on Facebook.