MANTENO — When it comes to birthday gifts for an 8-year-old girl, most people would think of dolls, maybe beauty products, perhaps bedroom decorations.
But puppy chow? Kitty litter? Chew toys?
That’s correct. For Clarissa Kaufman, 8, of Manteno, all she wanted for her birthday party were pet shelter items.
Her 40-plus guests responded as a pickup bed full of supplies were delivered to the River Valley Animal Rescue location along North Vincennes Trail in Momence.
The mid-September delivery contained about 230 pounds of pet food, 120 pounds of cat litter and numerous other items.
“We were so happy to receive all of this. Donations are our lifeblood,” River Valley board secretary Judy Gereg said. “This is all done with volunteers. We operate entirely on donations.”
For Clarissa, she doesn’t quite understand all the ins and outs of volunteer animal shelters.
All she knows is she loves dogs and cats — particularly cats — and she has plenty of toys.
It was a few months before her Sept. 10 birthday that she and her mother, Tracie Tousignant, began contemplating the birthday party. The two came up with the idea of collecting for pets in need.
The party invitations explained the unusual request, and mother and daughter picked out a rescue.
The two were astounded by the amount of donations received.
“I thought we’d get some litter, some cat food and dog food,” the little red-headed girl said. “I was like, wow.”
Tracie was equally shocked.
“I warned the shelter we would be delivering a large load,” she said. “When we got there, they agreed it was a lot. They told Clarissa their fur babies would be happy.”
Clarissa is a cat lover. She said they have had cats her entire life. She currently has three — Simon, Fisher and Mrs. Fluffer (Simon is her favorite) — and another six which they are fostering.
Clarissa is trying to talk her mom into letting her keep at least one of the foster cats, but mom has repeatedly stated three cats are enough.
The Manteno Elementary second-grader said she thinks she might do something like this for her future birthday parties as well.
Tracie said her daughter’s desire to help animals did not surprise her.
“We are animal lovers,” Tracie said. “We did it for the animals — not to brag.”