NEW BETHLEHEM — A pair of New Bethlehem area cousins, who both celebrate December birthdays, have turned those annual celebrations into a tradition of giving.

Rylee Bish, 16, of South Bethlehem and Nevaeh Martin, 14, of New Bethlehem, both Redbank Valley High School students, decided four years ago that rather than receiving birthday presents, they wanted to brighten the day for other people.

For the first three years of their effort, known as Gifts of Love, the cousins gave presents to residents of a nursing home in the area.

This year, after Rylee’s sister was born in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh, the cousins decided to make “survival kits” for the parents of NICU babies at West Penn.

Misty Martin, Nevaeh’s mother, said her daughter and niece began asking friends and family to forgo buying them birthday presents, and instead consider donating items that could be of use and comfort for those who found themselves with oftentimes lengthy stays at the hospital.

This year, a total of 20 drawstring bags were filled with items such as snacks and bottled water, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other personal hygiene items, notebooks, quarters for vending machines, sleepers for the babies, baby books, baby blankets and more.

The girls, along with other family members, delivered the bags to the hospital this past Monday, Dec. 23, just in time for Christmas.

Not only are the girls planning to continue their annual birthday tradition in the future, but they are also hoping to organize an Easter-time donation of items to the West Penn NICU as well.

Martin said that anyone wishing to donate items toward the cause can reach out to her via Facebook.

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