Emily Lamb has been organizing monthly celebrations at the Community Drop In Center since April. Thursday night's festivities, which drew more than 75 people, marked the biggest party yet.
"I didn't expect so many people to come," said Lamb, who turned 12 on Wednesday.
Party-goers usually are treated to cake and ice cream, door prizes and entertainment. But Thursday, volunteers cooked hamburgers and hot dogs and tossed together salads and side dishes for guests from across the community.
Greg, a volunteer and client at the center who declined to give his last name, did much of the cooking and said the parties did more than just celebrate the birthdays of Lawrence homeless.
"I think it's great. It brings together an eclectic or diverse group of folks," he said. "As long as they mingle, it's good."
Lamb's been committed to helping the homeless community from a young age. At 4, she saw a woman sleeping under a piece of plastic downtown.
"She came home that night, and she was so distraught," said her mother, Stacey Lamb. "She said, 'Did you know some people don't have homes?'"
So, Emily Lamb started volunteering at LINK at age 5. And a few years ago, she began wondering what homeless people did on their birthdays.
"From that, this is the dream she developed," Center Director Tami Clark said. "The response has been overwhelming. I have heard so many people say, 'Gosh, it's been years since I've celebrated my birthday.'"
Although Emily Lamb is ecstatic with how the first five parties have turned out -- and she's planned events for the rest of the year -- that's just the tip of the iceberg.
"My ultimate goal is to have my own shop to give out birthday gifts and throw parties for the homeless," she said.
More power to her, said Donnell Turner, a client at the center.
"These parties are the bomb," Turner said. "It's a chance for others to get a view of what homeless people are like and how they live. This pulls the community together in unity."
About a half hour after a crowd at Thursday's party sang "Happy Birthday" to the guests, the song was repeated in honor of Emily Lamb, who received a handful of birthday cards that doubled as thank-you notes for all her thoughtfulness and hard work.
"We also got her a guest book with a pen so she can look back a year from now and see all the lives she's touched," Clark said. "We really want her to know how much people appreciate what she does."
To volunteer or donate food or gifts, call the Community Drop In Center, 214 W. 10th St., at 832-8864.
-- Staff writer Mindie Paget can be reached at 832-7187.