Woman’s club collects donations for children; books and clothes needed most

A bedtime story and a new set of matching pajamas. For some kids, that’s all it takes for a good night’s sleep. 

This holiday, members of the Woman’s Club of Riverhead are teaming up to ensure that East End children go to sleep wearing cozy new pajamas.

For the fourth year in a row, the club is working with Riverhead Free Library and the Pajama Program, a nonprofit organization that donates new pajamas and books to local children and teenagers in need. Donation boxes are in the library until Dec. 21.

Petti Cellura, president of the Pajama Program’s Long Island chapter, said the organization, which was founded in 2001, has distributed over 6 million pajamas and books and operates throughout the country with volunteer presidents.

“Part of our goal became: Let’s see if we can provide for children in need,” Ms. Cellura said. “A sense of security, what most children in middle-class American get — a bedtime story, a comfy bed and clothes — that good-night routine sets them up for a good day, and provides opportunities for success.”

The Pajama Program works with over 4,000 community partners and volunteers, according to executive director Jamie Dyce.

“The children we serve face uncertainty in their lives,” Ms. Dyce said. “Pajamas and books promote a comforting bedtime routine.”

The Long Island chapter has about 60 community partners across Nassau and Suffolk. As chapter president, Ms. Cellura said she receives notifications of all donations. Then, she works with volunteers, like Riverhead local Maryann Keller, to decide which partner is most in need of supplies.

Ms. Keller, a member of the Woman’s Club of Riverhead advisory board, said many of these children are homeless and live in shelters across the island.

According to Long Island Cares, one of the largest food banks on Long Island, 39 percent of Long Islanders who receive emergency food are children under age 18.

“There’s no way for us to know if a child gets to go to bed with their own pajamas, and a brand-new book,” Ms. Keller said. “We’re hoping that with this project, children can be protected and have a good night’s sleep.”

Ms. Keller, who brought the Pajama Program to the Woman’s Club of Riverhead four years ago, said shortly after she discovered the organization, she reached out to Ms. Cellura, who gave a presentation to club members.

“She came to our club, showed us pictures, and inspired us,” Ms. Keller said.

Ms. Cellura said working with the Woman’s Club has been “incredible” and she hopes they maintain a connection.

“They’re community activists,” she said. “They can rally support, and they’re so generous.”

To prepare for “danger season” — the cold months from October to March — the Pajama Program prioritizes clothing over books. The organization desperately needs teen clothing, Ms. Cellura said.

“Everyone wants to donate to the little ones,” she said. “But some of the children in the shelters and group homes need adult sizes and most people are donating for younger children.”

Last year, the Woman’s Club of Riverhead received 150 pairs of pajamas. Ms. Keller said they aim to get 200 pairs this year.

Riverhead Free Library is the ideal spot for donations, Ms. Cellura said, because it’s centrally located.

“People travel there from other parts of the island so, we can reach a wide geographic area of donors that way,” she said. “The library is the heartbeat of Riverhead — they can let us know if a new area of children are in need. They see the communities, they know the families.”

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