Zenia Zuniga knows what it feels like to be a child who is scared and in need.
Her experiences as a foster child are what drive the Ceres woman in a years-long drive to collect and distribute pajamas for children in need.
As child Zenia was homeless in the Sacramento area. Her mother, Virginia Escobar struggled with breast cancer for years and the family – including Zenia and four younger siblings – was homeless. At times it was difficult to make it to food shelters on time to receive their single meal of the day, and a shelter at night to keep warm. When they didn’t make it in time they resorted to hunger and sleeping in a van. When their mother died on June 1, 1987, the children were placed in the foster care system, and were sent to several different foster homes while they awaited the system to place them with family members.
After hearing about it on the Oprah Winfrey TV show in 2012, Zuniga got involved in the Pajama Program, a 501(c)(3) organization that collects new PJs for “any child in need,” including children who are in the foster care system, in a shelter or awaiting adoption. She started the Central Valley Chapter, one of 63 in 50 states and Puerto Rico and now the largest in the state, from Tracy to Clovis. The organization also collects books to nurture children in need.
Zuniga estimates that her chapter has collected and distributed about 6,000 pairs of pajamas in the past seven years.
“Our mission is to promote and support comforting bedtime routines for all the children to help them thrive."Zenia Zuniga
“Our mission is to promote and support comforting bedtime routines for all the children to help them thrive,” said Zuniga. “Our vision is still ‘good nights are good days for all children everywhere.’”
The organization’s website (www.pajamaprogram.org) notes that the youngsters targeted “do not know the comforts of a mother or father to tuck them into a cozy bed and read them a bedtime story. Many have been abandoned or abused, most deprived of any love at all.”
“The impact that it makes that I see firsthand is that there’s rough times where parents are maybe unemployed or looking for employment or just financially in a rut, children are affected by it. With our organization we’re able to provide them with a good night’s sleep. Studies have shown that if you sleep well at night you’re most likely to have a good day the next day.”
Zenia is organizing a special event where volunteers are invited to come and help accept and sort donated PJs at the Ceres Community Center, 2701 Fourth Street, from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Dec. 7. Anyone in the community may lend a hand.
Since Pajama Program began in 2001, over six million new pajamas and millions of new books have been distributed to children in need.
The public can help the effort by donating a new children’s book, new pajamas of all children’s sizes (for babies to 18 years of age who require adult sizes), or make a financial donation by emailing Zuniga at email@example.com.
She said her group is available to confidentially assist children by teacher and professional referrals.
The chapter also maintains Facebook and Instagram chapters which users may find by searching for “Pajama Program CA Central Valley Chapter.”