Teri Dwyer got 20 pairs of pajamas for her birthday in November. She bought another 20 pairs shortly afterward.
And there was only one thing she wanted for Christmas.
“Hopefully, there’s pajamas on the way,” she said early this week.
Dwyer’s gift isn’t the hundreds of randomly sized pajamas she has received over the past five years; her gift is giving them away to children, many waiting to be adopted.
As part of the Pajama Program, Dwyer and 10 other volunteers spend all year collecting new or unused pajamas and books to give to children in shelters, group homes and orphanages in an area that extends from Athens to Cleveland and Akron to Youngstown.
The program is among those to receive funds this year from the Millennium Fund for Children, which is seeking donations as it enters its 2014 grant cycle. Continued support of the fund helps to sustain many programs in the area that help children with basic needs.
Garments for the Pajama Program are collected at drop-off locations spread across the Akron area or are delivered from pajama drives held at local participating organizations, like Akron General Medical Center. The tops and bottoms are bundled into boxes at the First Congregational Church of Akron, where chapter President Patricia Gillespie takes inventory of each item before shipping the night-time apparel off to a child in need.
It might be the first pair of pajamas a disadvantaged child has owned.
Some have never heard of pajamas; they sleep in the same clothes each night.
It’s difficult to imagine, but when a battered woman flees a dangerous situation, Gillespie said, “You’re leaving with the clothes on your back.”
The program launched nationally in 2001. Gillespie formed the Ohio chapter in 2007. Three years later, the statewide program split Ohio roughly in half.
Gillespie continues to run the eastern chapter, which (as of early this week) had collected and distributed 20,458 pairs of pajamas and 12,264 books.
Nearly all of the clothing is donated. Monetary donations from the Millennium Fund for Children and other foundations are passed along to the program’s headquarters in New York, where the money is earmarked for the local chapter to provide parties and book readings for children.
Dwyer, a Barberton resident, has been a part of the program since 2008, a year before she started asking for nothing but pajamas for Christmas and her birthday. A foster mother of four girls, she has witnessed the need for something as simple as a book and a clean set of pajamas.
“All my girls came with industrial-looking pajamas and white T-shirts,” Dwyer said.
Today, Dwyer still gets a rise out of new friends who unwittingly ask her what she wants.
“What do you mean you want pajamas in all sizes?” she often hears.
The program serves minors of all ages. Larger sizes are harder to come by.
The Eastern Ohio chapter distributes goods to 42 organizations, including Access Inc., Battered Women’s Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties, Marian’s Closet, the Village Network Inc., Spicer Street Good Neighbors, Caring for Kids Inc. and children’s services centers in Ashland, Medina and Summit counties.
Gillespie estimates that nearly 4,400 children from the 42 organizations need help. Last year, the program came up short by 1,357 pairs of pajamas.
And that doesn’t include children outside the 42 participating organizations.
Gillespie doesn’t have enough clothing or funding to take on more clients at this time, although she knows they are out there.
“I wish I could go out and knock on doors,” Gillespie said. “The need outweighs what we do. I know there are kids who still don’t have pajamas.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.