Pajama Drive Helps Families in Need, Keeps Young Girl’s Spirit Alive, Helps Mom Heal

Nov 28, 2018
Photo by: Chris O'Rourke

In memory of her daughter who passed away in 2011 at age 16, Manahawkin resident Chris O’Rourke’s mission is to provide comfort items – pajamas, books, socks, blankets, slippers, stuffed animals – to anyone in need of some softness and warmth during the holiday season.

“You just don’t think about people not having the basics,” O’Rourke said.

Her daughter Breanna had a pituitary hormone deficiency condition called panhypopituitaryism. In spite of her illness, Breanna was a vibrant, fearless girl who fought her way through every day and never stopped making plans. She didn’t spend her time worrying about her hair or other superficial things. She loved school; she was involved in the Future Business Leaders of America; she volunteered at the library and the zoo; she enjoyed photography; she wanted to travel. Her bedroom walls were painted each a different bold color and adorned with inspirational quotes such as “Enthusiasm moves the world.”

“Who knows what she would have been,” her mother wonders.

At the same time, Breanna understood and accepted the reality of her condition. Shortly before her death, she said to her mother, “Maybe I’m just here to teach people how to live and how to let go.”

The year she died, a friend of the family asked if she could collect pajamas in Breanna’s name; that first pajama drive was centered in Asbury Park. Then it spread north to Keansburg and grew to include books, stuffed animals and blankets. After Superstorm Sandy, the effort expanded to help displaced families; O’Rourke has distributed goods to a Burlington County women’s shelter and to Ocean Community Church in Manahawkin.

For O’Rourke, the pajama drive serves multiple purposes: It gives her a positive focus through the otherwise potentially difficult holiday season, keeps Breanna’s spirit alive and celebrates her legacy of kindness and generosity. It’s a happy reminder that she was here and she mattered.

Local distribution points and dates are still being worked out, but in the meantime donations are urgently sought. New pajamas, socks, slippers, blankets, stuffed animals and gently used books may be dropped off during normal business hours at the State Farm office located at 185 North Main St. (Route 9) in Manahawkin, just north of the library. For more information or to arrange a donation, call O’Rourke at 609-994-2691 or email  —V.F.

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