Pajama ride brings northwest Pennsylvania community together to help children in need – Episcopal News Service


Pajamas wrapped in bundles of children’s books are stacked awaiting holiday delivery by an annual service led by Sarah Margherio of Christ Episcopal Church in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Photo: Christ Episcopal Church

[Episcopal News Service] There’s a good way to say it’s November in Oil City, Pennsylvania: Sarah Margherio gift-wrapped 437 pajamas in a bedroom of her home, and she’s not done yet.

“It’s taking over my home for a while,” Margherio told the Episcopal News Service this week.

A longtime member of Christ Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Northwest Pennsylvania, Margherio has been the driving force behind the church’s annual Christmas pajama drive for the past 10 years. The idea was modeled after a national pajamas program sponsored by children’s book publisher Scholastic. Margherio prefers to organize her efforts locally, giving away up to 700 pajamas and accompanying books to children each year through several elementary schools and community organizations.

“It’s a very, very economically weak area,” she said. With around 50 active members, Christ Episcopal Church does not let its size deter it from lending a helping hand. “For a church that is very small in number, we do a lot in the community.”

The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are typically a time when churches like Christ Episcopal increase their community outreach efforts, from the frozen turkey donations coordinated by the Southwick Community Episcopal Church in western Massachusetts to the Episcopal Thanksgiving Day Church in Navajoland. And in Marshall, Texas, Trinity Episcopal Church’s Empty Stocking Fund is still doing well after a century of collecting Christmas toys for good girls and boys.

Many Episcopal congregations also follow the tradition of inviting parishioners to purchase specific clothing items for needy families around the holiday season, which are distributed just before Christmas. In Oil City, the Christ Episcopal Church has Midge’s Mitten Tree to raise funds for cold-weather clothing.

The pajama campaign is a newer ministry and has expanded a lot since Margherio launched it in 2012 in this town of just under 10,000 people.

“It’s only increased since then,” said Mark Elliston, the minister of Christ Episcopal Church, who is also Margherio’s brother. “We have people who love our program,” he said, so much so that sometimes they shop in the post-Christmas sale just to get discounts on pajamas to donate to next year’s campaign. Other people give Margherio money to buy the pajamas he needs.

Margherio, 70, prefers to buy all the books herself, usually at a discount from the sellers she worked with before she retired as an elementary school teacher. She then spends much of November sorting, wrapping and storing the presents at her home until they can be distributed in mid-December.

Each year she receives lists of the ages, grade levels and dress sizes of children who have been identified by teachers and school administrators as needing help during the holidays. After collecting enough pajamas and books to fill those lists, she contacts Venango County Community Services and a family service agency to distribute the remaining gift-wrapped bundles.

In the first year, Margherio expected to get maybe 30 pajamas. Instead, with the help of local coverage, she received enough donations to give away more than 250 pajamas and books.

Now people across the county, and even some across the country, have made Christ Episcopal Church’s pajama driver an annual recipient of their Christmas gifts, she said, including a group called Secret Santas, who are anonymously donating $500 to the cause each year.

“It’s just amazing to me, the generosity of people,” she said.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at [email protected].