Remember when you were a child how comforting it felt to put on a clean pair of pajamas and climb into bed with a good book? Doesn’t every kid deserve that?
That’s the ingeniously simple premise behind the Pajama Program, a national nonprofit organization that opened a chapter here this spring after co-founder Genevieve Pitturo gave the keynote speech at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s annual Women with a Purpose luncheon.
Pitturo co-founded the national program in 2001 in New York City after a visit to a homeless shelter. "She realized these kids had very little; they slept in their clothes," says Community Foundation donor services officer Jocelyn Stevens. "One evening, she brought in a dozen pairs of pajamas. One little girl looked at her and asked, ‘Where do I wear these?’ She didn’t even know what pajamas were. It was an ‘Oh, wow,’ moment."
Pitturo so inspired the local luncheon attendees that, in short order, Valerie Dorr came on board as volunteer chapter president, Beall’s department stores donated 1,800 pairs of new pajamas, and three Sarasotans with donor-advised funds through the Community Foundation—Phyllis Siskel, Victoria Leopold and Ruth Rolfe—contributed the money to purchase 1,300 books. All went to the Sarasota Family YMCA for its foster care program.
Dorr, a past president of the Junior League of Sarasota (and the mother of a 19-year-old son), says she was moved to participate because, "It’s working with kids; I just think they’re the most vulnerable element of our society. These foster kids are frequently pulled out of a home with no notice. This is a way of giving them a virtual hug, letting them know there are people who want them to be comfortable and secure."
Dorr says the chapter will provide new pajamas and books primarily to children in foster care, but any vulnerable children in the community—newborn to 18—can be recipients. Another concentrated donation drive leading up to the holidays is in the works, and the need is vast. There are 1,300 foster children in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties (the Suncoast chapter’s coverage area), says Dorr, and an estimated 300 who enter the system annually.
"The level of interest has been so exciting," says Dorr. "I think it’s because it’s such a simple idea—it’s making sure these kids have pajamas and books. How could you go wrong?"
To get involved in the Suncoast Pajama Program, e-mail Dorr at Valerie@pajamaprogram.org.