After Losing a Child, This Couple Chose to Throw Birthday Parties for Less Fortunate Kids

A couple turns their loss into a celebration for kids who need everything.

Mary Davis and Ari Kadin with party poppers and balloonsAmanda Friedman for Reader's Digest
The kids get new presents—nothing used. “They deserve the best,” Mary Davis says.

Skid Row. The very phrase conjures images of drunks passed out in gutters, lowlifes lying in wait, addicts in darkened alleys. It’s the definition of a place where dreams go to die. In Los Angeles’s infamous Skid Row, the scene can be even bleaker. There are hundreds of children living there—on the streets or in shelters—at any given time. But amid all the poverty and desperation, one couple is determined to use their own experience with loss to foster a sense of hope.

In 2012, Mary Davis, who works at an enrichment center for young children, and her husband, Ari Kadin, who is in property management, were expecting their first child when Davis miscarried. They were devastated. But the couple, who were volunteering with adults in a Skid Row homeless shelter, refused to let their heartbreak break them. Ever wonder how you could help someone else with an act of kindness? Maybe you can borrow an idea from these 10 random acts of kindness that can change someone else’s life.

“In 2013, our child would have been one year old,” says Davis, 38. “And we kept seeing these kids at the shelter, and I said to my husband, ‘We couldn’t throw a birthday party for our child, so let’s do it for these kids.’ ”

They took over a room in the Union Rescue Mission and filled it with streamers, gifts, a cake—all the makings of a great party. Or so they thought. “I forgot the music!” Davis says, laughing. It didn’t matter. Many of the 15 kids who showed up had never had a single birthday party before, and they were so excited to have one now that they made their own music—singing and clapping and, of course, laughing. Did you know these 13 things about the “happy birthday” song?

Since then, the couple has thrown a bash each and every month. They ­routinely attract 250 kids and their parents—they’ve had to take over more rooms in the shelter and the rooftop. An hour before each party, volunteers arrive to set up the decorations and activities: face painting, balloon artists, a DJ, cake, and pizza. There are small presents for the kids celebrating their birthdays that month, but Davis makes sure there are more than enough to go around.

pull quote text“I remember a mom came with her two kids,” Davis says. “It was their first night at the shelter, and her child had a birthday. We had an extra gift for her—pink headphones. The little girl was so excited. She was jumping up and down. And her sister was so excited. And I’m so excited. And her mom … she’s crying. ‘You have no idea what we’ve been through for the last 24 hours,’ she told me. ‘Yesterday was her birthday. I had nothing to give her. We went through so much trauma, and today we’re here in a shelter. I never imagined we would ever need to be in a shelter. I didn’t know what to expect. But I really didn’t expect a birthday party for my child.’ I had to walk away and wipe away some tears.”

Doing her best to normalize these kids’ lives is both heartwarming and bittersweet, Davis says.

“We’re on this rooftop. It’s this beautiful view. The sky is gorgeous. You’re above everything. But if you look down, you see homeless person after homeless person on the street, and it reminds you that these kids don’t get to leave this area after the party.”

It may be why, after throwing 88 parties, she still cries after each one. “I want to bring all these kids home, but we have a very small apartment,” she jokes.

Davis suffered a second miscarriage before finally having a child—she and Kadin have two now, ages two and four. But she credits the kids in the shelter with helping her hold on to hope. “We didn’t realize how much joy they were going to bring us,” she told CBS News. “And that was so healing for me.”

Next, 17 stories extraordinary stories of giving from people just like you and me.

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Andy Simmons
Andy Simmons is a features editor at Reader's Digest.