During an internship at St. Vincent’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, Kathleen Zachary walked into the room of a young boy with cancer who was confined to his bed after a bone marrow transplant. Zachary discovered it was the boy’s fourth birthday, but there was not so much as a balloon in sight.
“I immediately thought, ‘This darling, courageous boy has been through so much, but nobody even knew it was his birthday,’” she says. “The little guy was so down.”
The moment inspired Zachary, a 1995 graduate, to create Peanut Butter & Jelly, a non-profit business that plans birthday, holiday and after-chemo parties for hospitalized children. “I was on a mission to bring hope, comfort and joy to children in the hospital,” she says.
PB&J serves only families with a financial need. The hospital usually calls Zachary within a few days of the child’s birthday and gives her some background. Children pick the party theme, the food and the type of cake.
“When children are faced with illness and long hospital stays, they feel like the world has forgotten them,” Zachary says. “Birthdays are so important to kids, and they deserve to celebrate life.”
PB&J also hosts parent dinners to give parents the opportunity to connect with other families and build their support system.