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Alex Kuphal knew there were many things he could do to celebrate his 12th birthday party.
Even with places like Brunswick Zone and a movie theater right in his backyard, the Lake in the Hills sixth-grader decided to bypass the routine and draw inspiration from his younger sister’s recent celebration.
When 20 guests arrived at Kuphal’s door on Feb. 28, they were sorted into groups, assigned a chaperone driver, handed a map and challenged to see which team could accumulate the most points — in the fastest time — by collecting food and personal hygiene items for the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Food Pantry .
“We walked house to house for about two hours,” said Alex Kuphal, a student at Westfield Community School in Algonquin.
Household items like paper towels and toilet paper, which are some of the more-needed items at the pantry, were worth the most points. Food items and canned goods carried varying points.
By the end of the “race,” the partygoers collected 275 pounds of donations for the pantry, said Melody Kuphal, Alex’s mom.
“After they collected the food, all the groups brought their donations to the pantry where the kids were given a tour,” said Melody Kuphal. “They loved it. Afterwards, we had pizza and cake.”
When deciding on the birthday theme, the mother and son decided to go with a race contest to appeal to the middle-school guests. The chaperone drivers drove alongside the kids as they walked so the participants could drop their donations in the car.
“I knew we needed to have an edge to it,” Melody Kuphal said. “That’s where we came up with the concept of making it a competition.”
Melody Kuphal also included a peewee girls’ team to accommodate Alex’s younger sister, Alyssa, and his guests’ younger siblings. In addition to helping the pantry and providing a challenge to the kids, the mother, who's also a music instructor, said it was a very affordable party.
“We got pizza from Little Caesar’s, a cake from Sam’s Club, and during the race, the cars stopped at Thornton’s to pick up 69-cent drinks,” the mom said, with a laugh. “You couldn’t hold a more affordable party, and the kids had a great time.”
Alex Kuphal said the inspiration for his party came from his sister Alyssa’s birthday celebration in December.
Alyssa held her event at Feed My Starving Children, 555 Exchange Court, in Aurora. There, Alyssa’s 8- and 9-year-old guests spent two hours packing meals for hungry children in Haiti and other Third World countries, Melody said.
“When they were done, the kids had packed between 1,200 and 1,500 meals,” Melody said. “Our kids got to sample the meals they were packing, and everyone got a free T-shirt.”
Melody added that she donated the money she would have spent at the movie theater or bouncy place to the Feed My Starving Children program.
“And they let you know how many children you can feed with that money,” she said.
Lake in the Hills Trustee Russ Ruzanski, also a volunteer at the pantry, was present when Alex’s party group dropped off its donations. He was impressed, and thankful, for the unique birthday party concept.
“I hope it’s an idea that spreads,” Ruzanski said. “It was great of these kids to go out and get donations for the food pantry.”