By Brian Murnahan, American Red Cross volunteer
It was a quiet morning for the Pullen–Fazchas family of four -- mom Shelby, dad Frank, and daughters Olivia and Emily -- staying at the Red Cross shelter in St. Cloud, as group of volunteers tried to keep a secret. The group was setting up a party for Olivia's 10th birthday.
Shortly after lunch was served, Olivia and Emily, along with most of the residents of the shelter, were either in the dormitory or enjoying the good weather in the courtyard.
Those entering the party room were told, “Its Olivia’s 10th birthday” in a whisper. At 1 pm, Olivia entered the party room and saw a large Happy Birthday sign and other decorations on the walls, along with a cake and a table full of gifts.
Red Cross volunteers were gathered with members of the Osceola County Fire Department and other shelter residents to celebrate. Olivia immediately looked back at her parents as if she was in the wrong place. “This is for me?” Olivia could be heard saying. “Look there’s a cake.” Then eying the gift table, she asked, “Are these for me too?”
Mom and Dad encouraged Olivia to move behind the cake table and face the more than 35 guests as they sang Happy Birthday. Olivia smiled in awe through the song, paused at the end and blew out her candles. “Happy Birthday, baby,” her dad Frank called out.
“It means so much to me. It means a great deal to all of us,” said Shelby Pullen, Olivia’s Mom. “This really topped it. We couldn’t have done anything like this.”
The kids and their families then followed the firefighters to the parking lot, where they helped Olivia celebrate with a tour of their fire truck. She was able to sit in the driver’s seat and turn on the lights before being shown how to use the 2.5-inch water hose. After a few minutes, other children were able to take a turn.“This is the best birthday ever,” said Olivia to her parents. “Can I have the WWE Championship belt with the gift card I received?” Her mom and dad smiled and said yes.
When they returned to the party room, cake and ice cream awaited them, along with gift bags that included coloring books and firefighter hats for all the kids.
The party planning had started the day before when Frank told a volunteer how upsetting it was, thinking that his daughter wouldn’t be able to celebrate her birthday this year. “Our volunteers heard about the birthday, and we took up a collection,” said Teresa Nelson, a Red Cross shelter worker from Johnson City, Tennessee. “I went to a dollar store where I just grabbed a little of everything. When I got to the register, I realized I had more than what we collected for.
“That’s when a good Samaritan asked if he could buy everything for me. I explained the story and asked if he would pick up the difference, which he agreed. That was a hundred extra dollars towards the party,” continued Teresa, whose smile grew as she described the kind person and his act of generosity.