MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE — Jean Love was driving to visit her mom for her birthday about 15 years ago and heard a commercial for Toys for Tots.

“I was thinking about how generous and how great it is that people are so forthcoming in making sure kids have Christmas,” Love said. “That next thought was, what about the other 364 days a year? There are other times that kids should be recognized, like their birthdays.”

She spent the remainder of the two-hour drive thinking about creating an organization that would do just that. By the time she returned from a weekend with her mom, Love approached her husband, Tommy.

“I said, ‘Hey, honey, I have this idea,’” Love said.

Soon it expanded to include seniors 65 and older.

“I was very close with both sets of my grandparents,” Love explained. “The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to include seniors.”

Since then, the couple moved to Oregon from North Carolina and talked off and on throughout the years of making her idea a reality.

The former director of the Monmouth-Independence Chamber of Commerce stepped away from her career in December 2016 to build the Thoughts & Gifts Project that “believes in celebrating the value and importance of economically disadvantaged youth ages 0-18 and senior citizens 65+ on their birthdays.”

“I kept it a secret for lack of a better word,” Love said. “I left the chamber in December of 2016 and let people know I had this nonprofit idea that I wanted to start but was not forthcoming on what that idea was.”

Jean and Tommy took that time to research and set up The Thoughts & Gifts Project with a board of directors and 501 (c) (3) status.

Love said the project will provide a birthday gift up to $30 in value, a personalized birthday card or cards, an age-appropriate book and a joint birthday party with other gift recipients on both ends of the age spectrum.

“Not all children have grandparents around. Not all seniors have grandchildren perhaps, so it’s great opportunity for the generations to mix,” Love said. “I was very close with my grandparents growing up, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not had that connection.”

In May, the organization held its first fundraising event, surpassing its goal of collecting $5,000. Love has begun advertising through newsletters, other nonprofits, social media, and the Monmouth-Independence Service Integration Team.

Thoughts & Gifts has received donations and in-kind services, including design and printing, volunteer help and gift donations.

All the organization needs now is the first application for a gift and party.

“Our eligibility requirement is if you qualify for federal assistance, you qualify for us,” Love said.

For children, the primary parent or guardian needs to sign up the child with proof of the child’s age. Seniors can apply themselves up or can be referred by others.

“We are trying to spread the word and serve that first person,” Love said.

Love said she’s incredibly grateful for the support the community has provided to Thoughts & Gifts as it transitions from set-up to taking applications.

“We’ve had a lot of phenomenal support for being so new,” Love said. “This community is special. There is a reason that now is the time.”

She hopes to help grant a birthday wish soon.

“There’s something about when you’re a kid when you can make a wish and blow out a candle for your birthday that brings joy.”

For more information, to apply or donate: visit www.thoughtsandgifts.org, call 971-600-5026, or go to the Polk County Service Club office at 340 S Third St., Independence on Tuesdays-Thursdays from noon to 6 p.m.

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