A pajama collection effort for foster children and the city's economic development strategic plan were topics from two speakers at Friday's Ceres Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
Over a hot breakfast at La Cascada Mexican Restaurant, eight-year Ceres resident Zenia Zuniga explains why she has devoted part of her life to collecting PJs for "any child in need," including children who are in the foster care system, in a shelter or awaiting adoption. The organization also collects books to nurture children in need. 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."
Zuniga got involved in the Pajama Program, a 501(c)(3) organization and started the Stanislaus County chapter after hearing about it on the Oprah Winfrey TV show. She now oversees one of the largest regions in the state, from Tracy to Clovis.
"Our office is here in Ceres and it's my living room," said Zuniga, who hopes to ultimately establish a drop-off center for pajamas and books as well as a reading center in Ceres. "We're trying to spread the word that we're here because a lot of people still don't know we exist."
Zuniga has a heart for children in crisis and adopted a son herself. She connected with the program because as a child she was homeless and a foster child in the Sacramento area. Zenia's mother, Virginia Escobar struggled with breast cancer for years. The family, including Zenia and four younger siblings, was homeless and struggled just to make it through each day. At times it was difficult to make it to food shelters on time to receive their meal of the day, and to a shelter at night to keep warm. When they didn't make it to a shelter, they would sleep in the van. When their mother succumbed on June 1, 1987, the children were placed in the foster care system, and were sent to several different foster homes while they waited for the system to place them with other family members.
She said that her experiences as a child have purpose in her life's mission now.
Zuniga's chapter is one of 63 in 40 states.
Since Pajama Program began in 2001, over 1,334,850 new pajamas and over 922,557 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, or make a financial donation by emailing Zuniga at firstname.lastname@example.org.