As the nights get colder and winter starts to settle in, we grab our flannel pajamas and cuddle up with a good book. There is something to be said about the warmth of pajamas and how when you put them on, you are automatically transported back to your favorite childhood memories. So, what about the thousands of children who don’t have homes, parents or a pair of pajamas to call their own?
With almost 25% of America’s children living in poverty and half a million living in shelters or foster care, there is more of a need than ever to provide these children with something as simple as a pair of pajamas, a book and a memory that they too can treasure – and one woman’s effort is doing just that.
Genevieve Piturro is the Founder and Executive Director of Pajama Program, a non-profit organization that works to provide books and bedclothes to children – infants to teenagers – who live in shelters and group homes. Founded in 2001, Pajama Program has provided over 1 million pairs of new pajamas and new books to children across the country, operating 79 chapters in 42 states throughout the U.S.
Ten years ago, Genevieve was living the life of a successful marketing executive, but felt the urge to do something more than make the “rich richer”. In the evenings, after a day at work, Genevieve visited a center in Harlem, NY to read to children whose mothers were in prison. As she said goodbye to the kids, she saw them walk off and go to a nearby room to sleep. She noticed was that there was no bedtime ritual and that most of these kids have never enjoyed the comfort of having a parent tuck them in with warm, clean pajamas and a story. The next week, she arrived back at the center with a dozen pairs of pajamas in tow.
As Genevieve tells the story of the inception of Pajama Program, one little girl came up to her after receiving a pair of pajamas and asked what they were and where would she wear them. Genevieve responded that she would wear them to bed. The little girl seemed confused so Genevieve asked her what she usually wore to bed. The little girl answered “my pants”. At that moment, Genevieve’s life was changed forever, “I knew I had found my purpose in life and it drives me day and night.” Genevieve quickly jumped off the corporate ladder, and that was the beginning of Pajama Program.
Begging family and friends for pajamas for her birthday, Christmas and anniversary, Pajama Program was initially, fully funded by Genevieve and her then business partner and Pajama Program Co-Founder Alice Quirk. Today, Pajama Program is supported by corporate and private donations and depends on its volunteers, event hosts and sponsors to keep the program going and growing!
From October through March, we are in what Genevieve refers to as the “Danger Season”, the time of year that these children are most vulnerable to serious colds and illnesses. Warm, clean pajamas help to protect them against the winter night chill and harmful conditions. So, how can you help? Pajama Program encourages communities to host pajama and book drives. Get in touch with your local chapter and check out the Pajama Program website, where they provide you with all of the details you need to get started. There’s also a Kids Helping Kids section of the site that provides tools for teachers as well as some terrific pics and stories of the youngest ambassadors for the cause.
Congratulations to Genevieve and Pajama Program on celebrating a decade of giving back to those most in need. We salute you!