Celebrating a birthday is an inherently selfish act. But nine-year-old Sydney Coney turned her special day, Nov. 1, into a moment of selfless giving to help the less fortunate.
Coney, daughter of Alabama Power Customer Service Supervisor Erica Lamar-Coney, spent her birthday feeding more than 150 people at Birmingham’s Firehouse Ministries shelter – with the help of family, friends and neighbors.
“They did so much work on this food. I’m just happy,” Coney told ABC 33/40, which made a surprise stop by the shelter to capture the event. Also dropping by was Birmingham Mayor-elect Randall Woodfin, who somehow learned about Coney’s birthday gift to others.
“People don’t have a home. People don’t have a life, but now they do,” Coney said, sporting a chef’s hat emblazoned with her name. “So, I really want to feed this community right now, and that’s my dream. I’m happy.”
Coney and her team of 14 volunteers arrived at 6 a.m. at the shelter to prepare a hearty midday meal of chicken, ham, rice, green beans, corn and rolls. And for desert, what else but birthday cake.
But Coney took her birthday celebration a step further. She put together goody bags for all the diners, which included men, women and children. The bags contained party favors, fruit juice and candy, including Coney’s favorite: Sour Punch straws.
“She didn’t want the day to be about her,” said her mom. “She could have asked for anything, but her heart was one to give.”
“It is hard to work in a homeless shelter,” said Anne Rygiel, Firehouse Ministries executive director. “We see people living in pain, crisis, and chaos every day.
“Seeing a child like Sydney, however, lets me know that everything will be ok,” Rygiel added. “Her heart, dedication, and ability to put a plan into action gives me hope for our future.
“Sydney is my new role model, and The Firehouse wants to thank her and her whole family for raising such a shining star.”
Lamar-Coney said her daughter, a third-grader at Birmingham’s E.P.I.C. elementary school, was inspired by a sermon delivered by her aunt, the Rev. Veronica McAlpine, an associate minister at Zion Baptist Church in Washington D.C. The sermon, which the family listened to via audio disc, focused on the spirit of giving.
Soon after, Coney declared that for her upcoming birthday, she wanted to feed the homeless. And Coney’s two brothers and two sisters, who range in age from 14 to six, were all on board, their mom said.
It took about a week to make all the arrangements and buy the supplies, but Lamar-Coney said her daughter took charge.
On Coney’s birthday, the team of family and friends donned T-shirts that read “Sydney’s Hands to Serve, and Heart to Love.” Coney cooked the rice, and coordinated the serving, which continued for more than two hours.
Lamar-Coney said her daughter truly is focused on finding ways to help others, and she’s prepared to help her the next time she is inspired.
“I don’t think this will be the last time,” Lamar-Coney said.