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Toronto Birthday Project helps kids give back on their special day

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Donny Mangos's daughter, Mia, got so many presents for her fifth birthday this summer that the Toronto real-estate broker and his wife hid several of them to dole out later.

Many parents are fortunate enough that their kids get too much on their special day. It was Mia's solution that launched a project dedicated to making sure every child has a present to open on his or her birthday. Amid all the excesses of toys and cards and wrapping paper, the young girl asked: "Why do I have all these gifts for? There could be kids who don't have any gifts."

That was the "aha" moment for Mangos, who this month launched the Birthday Project. Through partnerships with the Red Door Family Shelter and the Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre, both in Toronto, where 28.6 per cent of children live in very low-income households, the project pairs kids who have the same birthday, with one donating a gift to the other.

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"We can't provide everything these kids want or need," the Birthday Project website says. "But for one day – their birthday – we might be able to provide them with a gift they may not otherwise receive."

The project will certainly resonate with parents who see their children showered with presents every year, Mangos says.

"Anybody who has a kid in the age range that Mia's in is going to relate to this," he says.

Parents know they can seek out shelters or toy drives to donate gifts any time of the year. What gives the Birthday Project such a lovely resonance is that taking one of a kid's own birthday presents and giving it to someone who has that same birthday (or thereabouts) helps make the importance of giving back more concrete for children, not to mention helping them understand that not everyone is as lucky as they are.

It is something many parents struggle with, including Mangos, who has brought his daughter to volunteer at soup kitchens to teach her that giving is better than receiving.

"I really wanted Mia to see for herself that not everybody has what she has," he says.

Most of the birthday parties my kids get invited to stipulate "Please, no gifts" on the invitation. It's a totally understandable request. The kids already have enough and we don't want more plastic stuff cluttering our home. Some invitations will ask for a donation to a charity in lieu of a gift – a nice way of trying to show kids the power of giving while keeping a lid on the toy box.

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If your children do get presents – and let's be clear here, it's great getting presents – there is now one more great way to teach them a valuable life lesson and help brighten another kid's birthday.

Would you do this with your children? Let me know @Dave_McGinn, #RaisingWell.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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