Cameron Owens walked into the dining room at the Kokomo Rescue Mission on June 27 for lunch and was greeted with unexpected décor.
The dining room was decorated with colorful “happy birthday” balloons and a banner, party favors, and festive centerpieces on all the tables. There was a clown and volunteers with cake and ice cream and gift bags. It was Owens’ 20th birthday, and his first thought was that someone was throwing him a party.
It was—but it also was for everyone else mulling through the dining room that day. The Kokomo Rescue Mission was putting on its 12th annual Surprise Birthday Party to honor those who may not be able to celebrate their birthdays throughout the year.
Owens said he couldn’t have picked a better day to eat at the Mission, as he had no plans to celebrate—or really even recognize—his birthday.
“This is pretty cool that they do this,” he said. “I didn’t have any plans, so I’m glad I came.”
Like everyone else who stopped through last Wednesday, Owens received a gift bag that was put together by volunteers with Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer. The gifts, which consisted mostly of an assortment of hygiene items, were packaged in a cinch sack. Church volunteers prepared 150 bags for men, 150 for women, and 30 for children.
Every other year the church is tasked with creating the gift bags, and Cindy Sewell with Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer said she’s happy to be a part of it.
“It’s a way to share the blessings that we’ve been given and the love that we feel from God to share that with other people so they feel that love,” she said.
After guests received their lunch, they stopped by the dessert table and received a slice of cake donated by Create-a-Cake and ice cream donated by Scoops.
Anna Brown, volunteer coordinator with KRM, said it’s always fun to watch people’s reactions to the surprise birthday party but that the main goal was to make each person feel valued.
“The thing is that there are so many people that don’t have a family member to celebrate with. They don’t have any money for a gift or someone to celebrate with them. So we just choose a day, and we want to celebrate them,” Brown said. “We want to make sure they feel valued and loved because they truly are loved and valued. We have a lot of great people that come every day. We have some people that come once a week just to help out, and so we just really want to make sure they feel special.”
In total, about 300 guests celebrated their birthdays.
Another one to celebrate was Mark Powers, who was expecting to stop in for a quick lunch while he was on break from his job in maintenance. He said he never expected a party to be going on.
“I was surprised. It’s not bad. They did a good job,” Powers said.
And attendee Joshua Brown said the event was a “wonderful surprise.” His birthday was on March 10, and since he didn’t celebrate, he said it was nice to be able to have a belated celebration in the company of others in the dining room that day.
While the guests ate and mingled with each other, Nurse Humdinger, played by Pat Mills, weaved through the dining room, pulling out her tricks. She showed off her four-carat diamond that literally was four carrots in the shape of a diamond and made balloon hats and animals for guests. She left smiles in her wake as she made her rounds.
Mills has been a staple at the annual birthday party for years, but she said she almost didn’t make it to last week’s.
“You know, I wasn’t even going to come today. I wasn’t because it was rainy, and I had some things to do at home. I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just stay home.’ But I kept thinking, ‘This is what I’m here for. It’s what I’m here for.’ I’m 80 years old now, and I thought, ‘I’m not sure I can even do it.’ But I can. So I’m here. And it’s good for my heart,” Mills said.