Girl’s birthday bounty turns to Christmas gifts for others

If Christmas is a time of giving and birthdays are a time for getting, what do you do if you’re born on Dec. 23?

If you’re Brielle Murray, you celebrate by giving presents away.

That’s what the Overland Park sixth-grader, who turns 12 on Sunday, did Friday afternoon at Della Lamb Middle School, a charter school created from a former adult education building on St. John Avenue in Kansas City’s Northeast area.

“Merry Christmas,” Brielle said as she and two friends passed out gifts to 36 of the school’s 58 sixth-graders present after a snow day.

“Happy birthday,” the kids replied as the girls tore into presents of stuffed toys, lip gloss and mirrors. The boys unwrapped their boxes to reveal green goo and Nerf footballs.

This is what Brielle has done every year since her seventh birthday.

The idea, she concedes, wasn’t hers. It belonged to her mother.

“I just presented the idea to her,” Marla Murray said. “We were having a birthday party for her. She had all these friends and all these gifts. She got gifts from us and, two days later, here’s Christmas with more gifts. I just started thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is too much for one person.’ ”

So she spoke to her daughter.

“I was kind of like self-conscious at first about giving away my presents,” Brielle said.

But she decided it was OK, asking about 20 friends who were invited to her first-grade birthday party to bring gifts that she would donate to others.

Her mom settled on the students in the charter school run by Della Lamb Community Services. Ninety-eight percent of its 605 kindergarten to eighth-grade students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Throughout the year, Della Lamb looks for donations of holiday gifts as part of its Operation Santa Claus to provide to the growing number of low-income families in Kansas City.

This year the organization, working with corporate sponsors that include U.S. Bank and Slim4Life Weight Loss, gathered donated gifts for 2,700 children in 1,700 families. But they can always use more.

That first year, Brielle added her gifts to those gathered by Della Lamb and handed out by Santa Claus to the charter school’s children.

“When I saw the kids’ reactions, how happy they were, I didn’t have a second thought about not doing it again,” Brielle said.

So she has every year, passing out the gifts with two classmates. This year they were Tori Donnici and Devin Sommerville from Blue Valley Middle School.

Instead of asking friends invited to Brielle’s birthday parties to donate their gifts, Marla Murray, who works as a network engineer, now shops and buys the gifts herself, looking for sales, with a budget of about $10 for each of about 60 students.

Brielle is still having a birthday party Sunday. In lieu of gifts, guests are asked to bring a donation toward the purchase of gifts for Della Lamb.

“If we had a Brielle for every grade level, what a blessing that would be,” Akers said.

Said Brielle: “I just get the feeling that it’s helping other kids. I don’t know. It puts like a smile on my face.”