Birthday girl's wish at 9? Feed Brevard's hungry kids

Girl asked people to donate food no gifts

FLORIDA TODAY / CRAIG BAILEY

Preston Reed and his children Miya, 8, and Owen, 3, drop off food items for the hungry at Addison Gaffney's birthday party Saturday. Gaffney asked all her friends to bring food items for the Children's Hunger Project instead of gifts.

MELBOURNE, Fla. - A 9-year-old Brevard girl celebrates her birthday by asking for food to feed hungry kids instead of gifts.

News 6 news partner Florida Today said Addison Gaffney scored big this birthday. A folding table holding up gifts was so loaded, guests had to start putting packages on the ground Saturday at her West Melbourne neighborhood park.

With boxes of juice, containers of applesauce and cans of Beef-a-Roni, you might think this kid is stockpiling for an impending natural disaster.

Nope. She just has a good heart.

The 9-year-old Meadowlane Elementary student asked guests to skip bringing her a gift. Instead, she wanted food to donate to the Children's Hunger Project.

"I like helping people more than I like getting stuff," Addison said while taking a break from the water slide. "I like making people happy."

In an email to News 6 news partner Florida Today last month, the nonprofit's director, Bob Barnes, described it as "a wonderful and generous gesture by a young girl" and said it shows "lots of class and compassion for a child that young."

"Addison is quite a special girl to think of hungry kids before she thinks of presents she might have received for her 9th birthday," Barnes said Saturday of the invitation sent to about 60 people. "She is active in Girl Scouts so I suspect other young girls will learn about The Children's Hunger Project."

The Cocoa-based nonprofit aims to help feed about 2,000 elementary age students at risk of being hungry. Children receiving free and reduced-price lunches receive lightweight, ready-to-eat food to take home on the weekends throughout the school year. Items include fare such as ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs, milk, breakfast bars and cereal.

The mission is to keep kids nourished and ready to learn when they're back in the classroom during the week. Try concentrating if you're a kid with a rumbling stomach.

Addison decided on the good deed after learning of the cause from her dad, Adam Gaffney, who is involved with many causes in the city. It's not the first time the family has asked for donations for a nonprofit, tied into family members' birthdays and other celebrations.

"Every year, we try to do something" to help others, Adam said. "It just kept growing and growing. There's just too many kids. It would be too many gifts.

"We don't want our house cluttered anyway," he said with a smile.

At the end of the month, the family plans to participate in a packing day, so they experience the full scope of what the organization does for the community.

"What's really neat is she's recognizing now at school, there's three people in her class that got the donations this week, so it kind of hit home," Adam said.

Mom Kristin Gaffney said the reaction has been great, all around.

"As we've been going through stuff and buying stuff, she's loving it," Kristin Gaffney said of Addison. "Her friends are like, ‘That's really cool.' "

Addison's friends are excited about it, and the donations have inspired other families to do the same, she said.

"I hope that's what it does," said Kristin. "We're all about paying it forward. I'm so proud of her that she wants to do stuff like this, and that she's excited to help others."

Swimsuit-clad kids scrambled up a water slide and hopped around in the bounce house as the DJ blasted party tunes. Parents mingled under canopies, chatting and grilling hot dogs.

Guest Jennifer Trofibio of West Melbourne brought daughter Gianna, 8, to the bash.

A lot of kids get a lot of things they don't need for their birthdays," Trofibio said, who took advantage of Publix sales to stock up on food items doled out by the nonprofit. "We just went to Publix," I spent what I would've spent on a birthday present, so I think it's a good idea."

Denise Bergman, who owns Jelly Bean Junction preschool in West Melbourne, was thrilled to see the gesture. Braden Gaffney, 3, is a student there.

"During the month of November, we focus on the character trait of thankfulness," Bergman said. "I love the fact that she has her children doing this and invited so many of the children who come to the school to be a part of this and focus on bringing in food for children in the community who need it. I think this is fantastic."

So, did Addison have a goal of how many kids she wanted to help? Yes, she did.

"I'm hoping to feed all of them," Addison said.

FLORIDA TODAY / CRAIG BAILEY

Addison Gaffney had a birthday party and asked all her friends to bring food items for the Children's Hunger Project instead of gifts.

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