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For these Corona-area residents, each birthday is another dollar for charity

For these Corona-area residents, each birthday is another dollar for charity

At some point in life, most of us decide that when our birthday comes around, we just need to be surrounded by friends and have a slice of cake.

Karen Gross got to that point about five years ago.

“It was my birthday, all the girls asked me what I wanted,” Gross said. “I said there is nothing that I want. I want to feed the homeless. They all brought food to my house.”

So Gross and close friend Sally Wieringa took the canned goods and other assorted food and fed the homeless at a spot near downtown Corona, as well as at local shelters.

“That made me feel really good, feeding the homeless,” Gross said.

Through that gesture, an idea was born: Birthdays for Charities.

Since August 2014, Gross, Wieringa and Patti Blyleven have organized events that celebrate the birthdays of people in their Trilogy at Glen Ivy community, a residence in the Temescal Valley south of Corona for those 55 and over.

A past Birthdays for Charities event was held in the Trilogy at Glen Ivy amphitheater in the Temescal Valley south of Corona. (Courtesy of Birthdays for Charities)

Instead of a ritzy dinner among friends with a few gifts exchanged, the three women began finding local and national charities to fund raise for through events such as concerts and luncheons. Their reach has grown each year and has gone from being held four times a year to once a year.

“We do this because we’re able, we’re physically able,” Wieringa said. “We want to use our minutes and hours in our lives to help other people. It’s exhilarating. The response from people who are donating items and gift cards is amazing.”

This year’s event was Saturday, April 13, at Trilogy’s Pacific Coast Lodge ballroom. Tickets for the luncheon sold out in 45 minutes, prompting the idea of also doing a dinner  the same day. Those tickets went fast as well. At $ 5 a plate, 160 people were set to be served at each meal.

Quite an undertaking for three retired women in their 70s.

“This community has always been different,” Blyleven said. “It is vibrant, it is youthful, it is young. When we get together for parties at the clubhouse or homes, it’s just so much fun. We’re not thinking the next home will be a rest home, we’re enjoying life. And because we’re enjoying life, we feel like we can give back.”

For the initial $ 5, those at the luncheon got tostadas, while the dinner featured street tacos. From there, guests were asked to donate to the chosen charity. This year’s charity is Rebirth Homes, which provides a safe haven and counseling for women who have been involved in human trafficking.

Wieringa said Birthdays for Charity has raised more than $ 33,000 for 10 charities since its inception.

“It was a hard one to decide to do, but we are doing it for the women who don’t want to do what they are doing out there,” Wieringa said of choosing Rebirth Homes. “They want a legitimate job and go out and enjoy their lives and not be held captive.”

Previous local charities that were helped are the Corona Rescue Mission, Peppermint Ridge, Aspire and Royal Family Kids Camp. Every dollar raised goes directly to the chosen charity. As for covering the expenses, whatever isn’t donated comes out of the women’s pockets. Last year’s event raised $ 6,200 for Royal Family Kids Camp, Wieringa said.

Blyleven came up with a motto for Birthdays for Charity: “A little can go a long way when we have our friends helping us.”

“What that means, is when we ask for money, the donations to the charities, there are some people that can afford $ 100 checks, there are some people that can afford $ 50 and then there are some people who can only afford $ 5,” Blyleven said. “So it doesn’t really matter to us what the denomination is and that’s where this little can go a long way.”

Saturday’s event was among the most challenging event the women have put on.

In addition to the meal, attendees could participate in a silent auction and a raffle, while there also was a fashion show, with tTrilogy residents as the models. Other residents have taken on big roles in helping Gross, Wieringa and Blyleven, including Joy and Art Kelly and Janice Walker.

“I’m so grateful that we are retired and can do this,” Blyleven said. “It keeps us alive — not living and breathing — but in purpose. I didn’t really know what I expected in retirement, but it this is a great part of it. It makes you feel good that you are giving back.”

And it makes adding a year to your age a little more palatable.

“We do celebrate everyone’s birthday,” Gross said. “Everyone will have a cupcake or piece of cake and we will sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to everybody. Except instead of giving gifts, we are giving to charity.”

Press Enterprise