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Family shares a birthday lesson

Posted: Wednesday, Dec 21st, 2011

Half of SDSU’s Pugsley kindergarten class that was able to stop by the Brookings Food Pantry last week includes, standing, from left: Carson Linde, Alex Shore, Aidan Austreim, Olivia Lacher-Starace, Lilli Weber, Taylor O'Neil and Nik Burdick (with help from younger brother Nash Burdick); and, seated, from left: Xander Hof, Joseph Toronto, Holden Stewart-Nuñez and Albert Shore. Photo by Jill FIer/Register

• Brookings girl’s big day benefits those in need

You’ve probably heard the complaints before. Someone with a birthday close to Christmas doesn’t get gifts for both holidays because his or her birthday is, well, so close to Christmas.

But one Brookings couple wants to teach their daughter that it’s not the gifts that count, and they’re trying to pass along the lesson to others as well.

Last week, Jennifer Lacher-Starace, her daughter Olivia, and half of Olivia’s kindergarten class stopped by the Brookings Food Pantry. The crew was there to deliver two large boxes of non-perishable food items and a check for more than $770.

Both the food and the funds were raised in honor of Olivia’s sixth birthday, Dec. 6, in lieu of birthday presents.

Olivia first had a small birthday party with her neighborhood friends and asked her pals to bring food instead of gifts. And then on Dec. 13, Olivia asked all her Pugsley Kindergarten classmates from SDSU to come bowling after school. The classmates and their families pledged a penny per pin that the kids were able to knock down (3,352).

Olivia collected pledges from members of the family’s church, St. Paul’s Epsicopal, too, and that money also went to the food pantry last week.

Lacher-Starace said she and her husband, Michael Starace, are trying to teach their daughter how fortunate she is and that there are others with needs greater than her own. Not everyone receives stuff for themselves during holidays, and Olivia can be part of the solution, her parents say.

The idea for the birthday party-turned-benefit came from Lacher-Starace’s sister-in-law, who raised money for a women’s shelter instead of accepting gifts for her own daughter’s fifth birthday.

Olivia’s birthday also happens to fall on St. Nicholas Day, which celebrates the saint’s reputation as the bringer of gifts.

The Lacher-Starace family tried the birthday collection out for the first time for Olivia last year. In 2010, they organized a toy and food drive. Four boxes of food went to the food pantry, and four boxes of toys were delivered to Project Joy.

Olivia says she doesn’t mind sharing her birthday with others and says the parties were more than enough fun. And she was all smiles last week, when half her classmates were able to join her at the food pantry to drop off their donations.

Mom agreed that the arrangement is working out.

“It’s pretty impressive for a 6-year-old. She’s never once fussed about, ‘How come I don’t get to have presents from my friends.’ I really think for her the excitement was going bowling, and her list of friends kept growing and growing. So I said, ‘Let’s just invite your whole kindergarten class,’” Lacher-Starace explained.

“I’ve gotten such good feedback from the parents that it’s my hope that other parents will think about doing something like this, too.

“The way I was inspired by my sister in law, maybe others will be inspired by what we’re doing with Olivia.”

Contact Jill Fier at jfier@brookingsregister.com.

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