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Homeless get chance to celebrate birthdays

The Salvation Army is throwing a party to help build the spirits of those less fortunate.

Published September 27, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - James Philyor is 52, but he doesn't remember the last time he celebrated his May 8 birthday. It may have been 10 years ago, maybe 20.

Friday, he'll make up for his forgotten birthdays at a citywide bash for the homeless hosted by the Salvation Army. Partygoers will receive cake and presents, and a DJ will provide music.

"We're just saying we remember your birthday, and no matter when it was, we want to celebrate you," said Janet McGuire, community relations coordinator for the St. Petersburg's Salvation Army.

Charles Kaniss, a 66-year-old who's been homeless for about a year, plans to attend.

The cake and the presents will be nice, he said, but mostly he just wants to meet new people, laugh and dance.

"It gets lonely out here," Kaniss said. This year, his birthday came and went on Feb. 17. He can't remember what he did that day.

"It'll be a little change of pace, a little pick-me-up," he said.

The birthday party, the first of its kind in St. Petersburg, is being held in conjunction with a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Pinellas County.

The multistep plan, launched in March, relies on money, organizations and education to prevent and combat homelessness.

But as long as homelessness exists, McGuire says it's important to remind the homeless that they haven't been forgotten. She wouldn't disclose how much the festivities will cost but said she is trying to get most items donated.

"These are people who haven't had any type of normalcy for so long," McGuire said. "We want to give them a sense that they are still a part of a family and a community."

Vickie Cucchiara, who works at the One-Stop Outreach Center, said she's been handing out about 50 fliers per day. So far, everyone she's talked to said they would go.

"There's been a tremendous reaction," she said. "Basically people want to see what it's all about."

But some, like Betty Hughes, said a birthday party won't make things better. After 18 months of living on the streets, she can't even remember her birthday anymore.

"That's a long way to walk for a piece of cake," Hughes, 60, said as she settled in for a nap in Williams Park. "I might go, but right now I'd just like to have a little blanket."

Philyor, though, says he's excited about everything - the gift, the food, the music - but mostly, he's hoping for a slice of coconut cake.

"It'll get my mind off of a lot of things," Philyor said.

"My problems will be solved for a while, but I could party a little more if I had some place to lay my head, something comfortable to sleep on."

If you go

What: Birthday party open to any homeless people in the area. Festivities will include music, cake and gifts.

Where: Red Shield Lounge, 310 14th Ave. S St. Petersburg.

When: 1 to 3 p.m. Friday.

Information: 550-8080

[Last modified September 26, 2006, 19:39:31]

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