Cover Stories

Let’s Celebrate: West County Center

Birthdays are important milestones, and they also should be sources of great happiness. This year, West County Center is turning 19, and on Sept. 10, it’s throwing a special celebration—but the birthday joy doesn’t stop there. The shopping center has partnered with the Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition (FACC) Birthday Buddies program to ensure local children enjoy their special days, too. Shoppers can donate gift cards from West County Center stores to children who could use a birthday surprise.

The Birthday Buddies initiative matches donors with children in foster care who are unlikely to receive any gifts on their birthdays. “Many foster parents have big hearts but not wallets, and birthday gifts often are an extra expense they cannot cover,” explains Shelley Thomas-Benke, FACC director of volunteers. “For these kids, the possibility of shopping at a popular store at West County Center is huge. Sometimes, their birthdays can cause sadness because they aren’t with their biological parents, but receiving a gift through the program makes them feel cared for and special.”

To make a donation, West County shoppers first need to visit the large, decorative birthday cake on Level 1 of the mall near Nordstrom. The cake is decorated with envelopes that contain wish lists created by children with an upcoming birthday. Shoppers can take an envelope, purchase a gift card from the store indicated, and drop the donation inside the cake. They can even include a personal message to the child with the gift. “We’re also asking that guests at our 19th Birthday Celebration bring a gift card for donation,” says Sean Phillips, West County Center’s marketing director. “We’ll have a special table top version of the giant birthday cake, and representatives from FACC will be in attendance to collect the presents.”

The event will be held outside in the shopping center’s restaurant village and will include live music from the Charles Glenn Group, food and more. Visitors also will get to enjoy the center’s new patio space. “We wanted to create an area for people to spend time outdoors,” Phillips says. “There are yard games for people to play. It’s a great space to take a break from shopping or have some fun while waiting for a table at one of our restaurants.” As another element of the birthday fun, shoppers at West County Center’s Hallmark store will receive a “Something to Celebrate” box with each purchase of $30 or more while supplies last. The box is a $50 value, containing greeting cards, gift bags, wrapping paper and more.

The Birthday Buddies partnership with West County Center launched this spring, and in just about six months, it has raised more than $8,500 in gift card donations for FACC, according to Thomas-Benke. She notes that one case manager recently shared a story about a boy who cried upon receiving his present. “I asked him what was going on,” the case manager recalls. “He answered that he had never received any birthday presents, and he couldn’t believe that someone who didn’t even know him wanted to acknowledge his birthday. He said it was the best day of his life.”

West County Center is partnering with the Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition (FACC) on a Birthday Buddies initiative  to provide gifts for foster kids. The Shopping Center’s 19th Birthday Celebration is Sept. 10. Pictured on the cover: Sandi Blest of Hallmark, Joe Dant of Hallmark, Shelley Thomas-Benke of FACC, Eric Tschannen of Hallmark, Natasha Leonard of FACC. For more information, visit

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo by Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography

Pictured at top: Eric Tschannen, Sandi Blest and Joe Dant of Hallmark at West County Center show off the “Something to Celebrate” box.
Photo: Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton Photography



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