A birthday without presents sounds like a young boy’s nightmare but to Sean Spata, Patrick Doherty and Bobby Ponton, designating all their gifts in the form of back-to-school supplies for the needy was shrugged off as a non-issue.
"This feels good," said Patrick, as he looked at the picnic table at the Daventry pool in Springfield at the bags of supplies.
"This is our first time doing this," said Sean.
Scott Meholick, 8, and brother Michael, 11, came through the pool door, bags in hand.
"We took what we used for our list for school," Michael said, describing his gift-shopping experience.
Eileen Spata, Carol Doherty and Sharon Ponton, mothers of the boys, monitored the gift table, while handing out sodas and pizza. Spata described the inspirational moment she had looking at the toy box at home. She did a similar thing helping a cause with her 5-year-old daughter earlier in the year.
"It came out of 'do we really need more Barbie cars and GI Joes?’" she said.
"I was really proud of him," Doherty said of her son, Patrick. "The boys brought up giving money to an animal shelter, coats for kids or youth sports groups," Doherty added.
The invitations said, “In lieu of presents ... ,” according to the mothers.
THEY COORDINATED their efforts with a list put out by ECHO in Springfield. Doherty noticed a list while at the store dropping off donations. She copied it and put it in the invitations.
"I was dropping off something else and saw the list," she said.
Each boy was limited to five friends to invite, but there ended up being fewer.
"We had five, but some couldn't come," Sean said.
"We all invited Scott," Patrick said, pointing to Scott Meholick.
They were all members of the swim team at Daventry as well.
Zohar Golub came with her 8-year-old son, David.
"It's really nice for the boys to do it. I was very proud of them," she said.
Some girls showed up with other mothers as well, but the boys made it clear it was not a girl-boy party. The expressions on their faces told the tale. Spata looked at her son and knew the time would come, but not for a few years.
"We're not ready for that," she said.
The mothers all agreed that not having to deal with the awkward moments of gift-opening when it's not the right present, a wrong size, or a gift that requires batteries when they’re not included was a bonus.
"There's no opening of the gifts. It's one of the benefits," Spata said.
Sean confessed the gift thing was only going so far.
"We still get them from our family," he said.
AFTER THE TABLE was filled up with school supplies and the pizza was eaten, attendees at the party had other concerns, mostly in the form of a splash dive contest, the parents vs. children relay race, and game of jump or dive.
Pool manager Christina Craven knows the boys.
"They're always playing together," she said, looking at the school-supply effort. "It's a really good idea. This whole area is not really well-off," she said.
Scott talked about his favorite splash dive.
"An egg roll, you get in a little ball on the diving board and roll off," he said.
Jason Schwartz, 9, had something else in mind for the contest.
"I do a watermelon. You hold your hands up and do a dive, and at the last minute you curl up," he said.
In front of the judges, Jason's watermelon didn't work out, so he improvised into a can opener, a reliable one on the splash-dive circuit.
"It gets you a really big splash. If you mess up, you do a back flop," he said.
AT THE ECUMENICAL COMMUNITY Helping Others, ECHO, Barbara McDonald was there when the boys and their mothers arrived to donate the supplies a few days later.
"The kids were wonderful. That was unique," she said.
ECHO's school list included Crestwood, Keene Mill, Lynbrook, Garfield, Newington Forest and St. Bernadette’s. They have a couple of shelves full of supplies and a row of baskets ready for the assigned families.
"I got around 30 of these," said volunteer David Wagner from St. Christopher’s church.
Other school-supply contributors included Girl Scouts collecting school supplies for their Silver Award, a confirmation project, vacation bible schools, and the Village Church at Greenspring Village retirement center.