- Associated Press - Sunday, March 16, 2014

CLEVELAND (AP) - Eleven-year-old Claire Hall of Cleveland Heights hasn’t received a birthday gift since she was 4.

No dolls, toy ponies, hair accessories, Wii games or any of the usual gift-giving stuff children are used to getting.

That’s because every year instead of gifts, Claire asks family and friends to give her pet supplies: food, treats, toys and other items she can donate to the Cleveland Animal Protective League.

“It’s a good feeling to do something good,” said Claire, whose eight birthday parties have generated countless cans and bags of pet food, treat, toys and the like for the APL. “As long as I have birthdays I’m going to keep doing this.”

A growing number of nonprofits say they are being helped by pint-size philanthropists like Claire who are willing to give up their gifts from birthdays, bar and bat mitzvahs and other celebrations to donate to a good cause.

Natalie Leek-Nelson, president and CEO of Providence House in Cleveland, which works to end child abuse and neglect, said children’s celebrations that benefit Providence House used to be sporadic. Now they’re much more frequent.

“Now in any given year we have 10 to 15 children who do this,” said Leek-Nelson.

Children like 7-year-old Leilah Mizer of Brook Park, who last spring was riding in the car with her mom, Crystal Macfarlane when the two began talking about Leilah’s September birthday, and what kind of birthday party the youngster wanted.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Mom, I don’t really need anything,’” recalls Macfarlane. “‘For my party why don’t we have people bring things that we can donate to someone.”

Leilah asked party-goers to give to Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland. She was familiar with RMH because one of her teachers volunteered there.

“She was very adamant that nobody give her a gift,” Mcfarlane said. “The gifts that she got for herself she wouldn’t keep. She gave them to Ronald McDonald House.”

Nonprofit representatives aren’t really sure why there seems to be a rise in the number of children acting out of kindness. It could be that once a child goes to a friend’s party where donations instead of gifts are given, the idea catches on and word spreads among peers.

Or it could be the save-spend-give method of handling money that more parents are teaching their children, Leek-Nelson said. That is, save some for yourself, spend what you need to and give to a cause that the child feels strongly about.

Sharon Harvey, president and CEO of the Cleveland APL, said many contribution-minded kids are influenced by contribution-minded parents. But not all of them.

“Sometimes these wonderful children don’t need prompting,” said Harvey, noting that children over the age of 9 can volunteer at the shelter with a parent.

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