NEW BERLIN — As the mom of three kids whose birthdays fall within three weeks of each other, Tracie Donahue had serious birthday party fatigue. The gifts, the invitations, the elaborate celebrations – it was a lot of unnecessary expense and effort to go through each September, said Donahue, especially when her children already have everything they need.

Marley, left to right, Avery and Murphy Donohue display some of the dozens of birthday gift cards they received and donated to their school, Holy Apostles, New Berlin. (Catholic Herald photo by John Kimpel)

And so the family agreed that last year, the birthday parties for Avery, 13, and twins Murphy and Marley, 8, would be more sedate affairs – and that that they would teach the children and their friends an important lesson about charity.

“I didn’t want the kids to get 20 or 30 gifts. I didn’t want it in the house and they don’t need anything – they just wanted to have the party with their friends,” said Donahue. “I talked to the kids beforehand and said, here’s the deal: we can do these parties, but you guys have to donate half of your stuff.”

It was decided that the party invitations would specifically ask for gift cards, half of which would be given to teachers at the children’s school, Holy Apostles in New Berlin, for use to purchase classroom resources.

“That way, it would go to benefit all the kids in their class who gave them these gift cards in the first place,” said Donahue. “And we explained to them that sometimes teachers use their own money to buy you things for classroom, special games or toys, and we don’t want them to have to use their own money. It was pointing some stuff out to them that they probably wouldn’t understand at this age.”

Gift cards given at Murphy and Marley’s campfire-themed party were split with their second-grade teachers Lisa Eyssautier and Ashley Banton, while Avery chose to donate half of her cards to her science teacher Lisa Laabs. In total, close to $500 was given back to the school.

“Mrs. Laabs is a really good teacher and I knew she would use it well,” said Avery. “My mom has always taught me to help others, and I learn that from religion class, too, and, of course, from church.”

“At first we didn’t want to,” said Marley. “But once we did, it felt really good.”

Laabs said she received $120 in gift cards to Target, Walmart and Walgreens. She plans to use the money to buy supplies for the school’s Project Lead the Way curriculum.

“I’m given a nice budget which I’m able to keep pretty consistently throughout my years here at Holy Apostles, but as we’ve expanded our Project Lead the Way program, things have gotten tight, where I have to be very, very close on managing each year’s’ expense as we add more units,” she said.

She likes to encourage the students to use simple or recyclable supplies like clay, tape, clothespins and paper clips when possible for creating models.

“I want them to be creative and use simple tools. I think it allows them to think outside the box a little bit,” she said.

But even those reusable items can add up. “We’re making ice cream, we’re making glue, we’re making Rube Goldberg machines. Those are things that take up a lot of consumable pieces and those gift cards will be perfect for me to get supplies for those two new units.”

Pictured are Tracie and Sean Donohue and their children, Murphy, left to right, Marley and Avery. (Catholic Herald photo by John Kimpel)

Donahue said the gesture was well-received by the parents of other students in her children’s classes. “The parents were really generous because it was for such a good cause,” she said. “I just thought it might spur other people to think of this as an option and open people’s eyes to these kinds of giving opportunities. For some families who don’t have a lot of extra money to be charitable, this is perfect because it’s not coming right out of your own checkbook.”

The twins decorated a poster board with their gift cards and presented it to their teachers in front of both their second grade classes. In a letter that accompanied it, Donahue explained the reasoning behind the gesture.

“We appreciate how hardworking, dedicated and caring each HA staff member is, and you really are gifts to the families at HA,” she wrote. “When we share our gifts with you, a whole classroom of kids benefit! How amazing is that?”