Pajama Project spreads comfort to less-fortunate children
by Sherrie Norris
But the "Pajama Project" event at Mabel United Methodist Church on Feb. 10 put an entirely different spin to the traditional sleepover.
Participants, young and old alike, arrived in their pajamas; food was available and parents were present to make sure everything went as planned. It was much more than a typical night-out at a best friend's house.
Since 2010, Lisa Totherow and her daughter, Addison, have hosted the unique party at their home church with the hope of providing new pajamas and books to needy children in the community.
"Our family loves to share time together each night, snuggled up and reading stories," Totherow said. "Knowing that all children do not have the same opportunity as our daughter, we decided to use our talents and resources to help provide a feeling of security and love to others."
With the help of family, friends, her church family and others who have begun hearing about her idea, Totherow has helped collect and arrange the distribution of 560 sets of books and pajamas, including 215 from last week's gathering.
"The Children's Council of Watauga County takes care of giving out the gifts to children in the county who need them," Totherow said. "They distribute them through various parent and child programs at their agency and others, including the department of social services, Hospitality House, OASIS, the Head Start program at Mabel and Hardin Park Elementary schools. Most of the time we never know who actually receives them, but we don't need to know."
Totherow said she feels "so blessed" that the Pajama Project has become such a success -- and one that she hopes will continue for many years.
"If it wasn't for God's blessings and all the community support we get, this project would not be doing what it's doing," she said.
The invitation to Sunday's event was simple: Wear your pajamas, bring your donations and come be blessed.
With Cornestone Summitt providing music, Totherow reading from two of the children's books that she has written, and those in attendance eating popcorn and drinking hot chocolate, the event had all the makings of a pajama party not easily forgotten.
"We took the idea of collecting books and pajamas as a way to bring people together to help children in need and be disciples," Totherow said. "We assemble the gifts into a package that includes a pair of pajamas, a (new) age-appropriate book, toothbrush and toothpaste, with a tag bearing our logo and the Bible verse from Psalm 3:5; "I laid down and slept, I awakened in safety for the Lord was watching over me."
In addition to sharing God's word with the children and their families, Totherow said, the tag lets the children know that God loves them and is always watching over them.
The inside cover of each book has a sticker where the child's name can be written and upon which the first familiar words of "Jesus loves Me," are found.
Totherow, who grew up in a loving Christian home, credits her parents, Kathy and Eddie Dishman, for teaching her about the unconditional love of God.
"I grew up in Mabel United Methodist Church with my parents and brother by my side, but I never understood that kind of love, completely, until I became a wife, and especially, a mother," she said.
Totherow remains an active member in that same church today, where she directs Vacation Bible School, teaches a Sunday school class for teens and is a Sunday school team member for young children.
In recalling the basis for the Pajama Project, she said, "I wanted to let Addison know that all children may not have the same opportunities for storytime, like she has, or even to know about Jesus and his love. I also wanted to teach her that if we are able to help others in any way, we should, and that we need to use our time and talents to be witnesses of God's love."
Totherow began writing children's books as a birthday gift for Addison, which has led to a recent series based on the fruits of the spirit.