North Central News

Scholarship recipient helps homeless families celebrate children’s birthdays

Mar 10, 2017

Believing that each citizen has a duty to give back to the world, Francesca Lenzi, a junior at North Central College, is starting local with her community of DuPage County.

Lenzi, of Carol Stream, received North Central College’s Mironda K. Heston Scholarship for Public Service to kick-start Birthday Boxes, a service initiative dedicated to helping homeless families celebrate their children’s birthdays.

A sociology major, Lenzi was inspired to create Birthday Boxes after an internship at DuPage Pads, a provider of interim and permanent housing for homeless families. During her internship, she heard about a woman who stole cake ingredients from a grocery store so that she could make her son a birthday cake.

“I could not imagine what my birthday would be like without blowing out a few candles, nor could I imagine being a mother who could not provide those few candles for her child on their birthday,” says Lenzi (photo, below).

Lenzi was touched by the kindness of the police officers who responded to the 911 call. They bought cake supplies for the woman and a birthday present for her son.

Birthday Boxes provides families in transitional housing with the supplies necessary to properly celebrate the lives of each of their children on their birthdays despite economic needs. Each Birthday Box contains the essentials: birthday cake mix, frosting, sprinkles, candles, a blank birthday card and a teddy bear, donning a shirt that reads “Happy Birthday, Give a Bear a Hug.”

Most importantly, Lenzi’s initiative allows recipients to celebrate their children’s birthdays together—to make the cake and blow out the candles as a family.

Birthday Boxes is partnering with Bridge Communities, a grassroots, nonprofit organization that serves 131 homeless families in DuPage County. Based in Glen Ellyn, the program aims to transition homeless families to self-sufficiency by working with partners to provide mentoring, housing and supportive services.

“The population that Birthday Boxes serves is our neighbors,” says Lenzi. “They are families living a town over, a neighborhood over, or maybe even a door over. Birthday Boxes aids not only what we might call a hidden population—as you would never know these families have struggled with homelessness—but also provides a solution to a subsequent problem of homelessness that we do not typically address.”

Since December 2016, Lenzi has celebrated 38 children’s birthdays via Birthday Boxes and estimates to celebrate a total of 150 birthdays by November 2017.

In addition to her service through Bridge Communities, Lenzi works for Little Friends as an aid to boys with severe autism, for Winfield Park District as a dance instructor and for Stars Family Services as a job coach for adults with disabilities. She also is the marketing and communications intern for the City of West Chicago.

Administered by the College’s Leadership, Ethics and Values program, the Mironda K. Heston Scholarship is awarded annually to one or more North Central College students and funds their work on a human service initiative at home or abroad. The scholarship honors Mironda Heston, a 2002 graduate of the College, who died from a fatal illness she contracted in Haiti while working to improve health care.

For more information regarding Birthday Boxes, email Lenzi at

By Stephanie Passialis ’17