Mary Ann Rogers still remembers her first new set of pajamas, at 13 years old. They had horses on them, and the pants ended in booties.
Every new kid at the receiving home in Puyallup, Washington, had gotten a pair. For Rogers, who grew up in foster care, having something of her own was a rarity.
“You sit around the tree, or you enter a receiving home or a group home and you’re ripped out of your home at night and you have nothing. You have absolutely nothing. And so to be able to be given a package or something and you can say ‘this is mine,’ it’s important to have that,” she said.
Rogers works at South Salem Ace Hardware, which in a month raised over $11,000 from customer donations to buy over 900 sets of pajamas to be distributed to foster children, shelters and schools in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties.
They were the largest contributors to the United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley’s 2023 Pajama Drive, which community relations director Melinda Freshour expects will distribute around 1,500 pairs this year.
There are 32 collection sites in all three counties this year, and Ace is expected to bring in over half of the grand total. Last year, the drive collected around 1,100 pairs in all three counties.
“Because Ace Hardware keeps breaking records every year, we keep expanding this whole pajama drive, so we’ve reached out to more non-profits this year,” Freshour said.
Nearly 20 organizations will receive pajamas to distribute, including CASA of Marion County, Safe Sleep and Catholic Community Services.
Ace’s outsized contribution this year came from $5 donations at the register, which put customers in a raffle entry for two $250 gift cards. The store is at 706 Madrona Ave. S.E.
The store’s initial goal was to raise $5,000. A hand-drawn thermometer chart by the registers that kept track of donations was filled, prompting them to draw another chart for a $10,000 goal, which was also exceeded.
Michele Vanderyacht, who organized the fundraiser at Ace Hardware after bringing it from her previous job at Epic Fitness, said the amount represents over 20,000 generous community members who chipped in to brighten the holidays for kids of all ages.
“It was all them, we did nothing except ask,” she said. The staff had fun with it, wearing pajamas to work on Wednesdays during the fundraiser.
Vanderyacht said they had a lot of fun at Costco and Walmart picking out cute pairs of pajamas in sizes “tiny to teen and everything in-between.” When they were out shopping at Walmart on Monday, another customer found out what they were doing and gave them another $20 for the cause.
Rogers was a ward of the state of Washington, and said it gave her an understanding of the significance of giving someone something new. Moving between 13 different foster homes, over six receiving homes and three group homes, she often got nothing more than a bed, pillow and blanket.
She said the fundraiser is about doing something for the kids who are in a broken foster care system. She prayed over the pajamas, and hopes that the kids who receive them will feel loved and comforted.
“To have a community come together and do something that’s this big, it’s huge. Our community is amazing here,” she said.
“If there’s a little something that we can do, then let’s give back.”
Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.
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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.