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Town of Brookhaven INTERFACE Program

Members of the EJ’s PJs pajama drive, a Centereach-based nonprofit, during a Saturday, Dec. 10, event. Photo courtesy Kevin LaValle

The EJ’s PJs pajama drive is an enduring holiday tradition for the Middle Country community. On Saturday, Dec. 10, the program marked its 12th iteration at the New Village Recreation Center in Centereach.

Patricia Poggi is a lifelong resident of the area who formed EJ’s PJs with her three sons. The name was inspired by the boys, Edward, Jeremy and Patrick, who have each been instrumental in preserving and growing the drive.

In an interview with Poggi, she outlined how the pajama drive first came into existence. “We created our pajama drive because we always wore pajamas [around Christmas], and it was kind of a thing that helped us to keep warm, fun and family oriented,” she said.

Poggi described the program as a family endeavor that has taken on a life of its own. The organization’s first year saw the collection and donation of 33 sets of pajamas. Over a decade later, that figure has grown exponentially. 

Three years ago, EJ’s PJs began a partnership with the Town of Brookhaven, working closely with the area’s representative on the Town Board, Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden).

“Now we’re in 85 businesses, and we’re expanding tremendously,” Poggi said. “Every year, we’ve doubled.”

A significant portion of the pajamas donated support the town’s INTERFACE program, which offers goods and services to those in need and addresses social issues throughout the township. Now, as a 501(c)(3) pending nonprofit, EJ’s PJs plans to move the operation into local shelters and hospitals.

For her impressive charitable work, TBR News Media is pleased to name Poggi as a 2022 Person of the Year.

During this year’s event, LaValle discussed how the partnership between the pajama drive and the town first came about and has strengthened over time. He and Poggi were classmates in high school, and after reconnecting some years ago they began exploring ways to grow the initiative.

“I saw her vision of what she wanted to do and said, ‘We have a toy drive, so why don’t we try to put that together with EJ’s PJs,’” LaValle said. He explained his involvement to date, “We identify at the town level, through the toy drive, the needy children that we’re going to give toys to. We match up a pair of pajamas, so the kids go to bed with a nice pair of pajamas, and then they get toys in the morning.”

‘These are all sorts of organizations from the Middle County community coming together for a great cause.’

­— Kevin LaValle

Amid the rising heat, fuel and food costs, LaValle regarded EJ’s PJs as serving a critical public service function during this time of year. While broader economic pressures may be placing a strain on local families, he commented that many — such as the Poggis — are eager to make a positive impact.

“You see, with the rising prices, a lot of people are hurting right now,” the town councilman said. “But there are so many people coming out giving toys, giving pajamas.”

He added, “That’s an amazing thing. There is a need, but there are a lot of people — even in some tough times — willing to give.”

Helping the pajama drive to run smoothly and efficiently are a dedicated team of volunteers. Jennifer Dickson is a committee member with EJ’s PJs who first got involved with the organization last year. She described the influence of the volunteers.

“We’re a big committee,” Dickson said. “We all help each other out and do certain things — the social media, creating the event, wrapping the boxes, the setup and cleanup.” She added, “It takes months because we want to get as many pajamas as possible.”

Lettice Washington is a friend of Poggi’s and a committee member. Within the organization, she is renowned for her folding technique, helping to arrange the thousands of pairs of pajamas that have crossed their door. “I came back to fold all the ones we get this year,” she said.

While the program has grown considerably over its 12-year history, Washington foresees the drive building upon its recent momentum and expanding even further.

“I tell you, it gets better every year,” she said. “We’ve had a great response, and I see it growing. The more we get the word out, the more people know about it, I think the bigger and bigger it will get.”

One of the major draws of this event is its originality. Washington said she was motivated to be a part of something unique and outside the box in deciding to join the organization.

“It is something different,” Washington said. “It being a unique kind of idea is what drew me to it. … You don’t really hear about pajama drives and donating nice, warm pajamas for kids during Christmas.”

Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) also attended the Dec. 10 event. He reflected upon the value of giving back to the community amid these trying times, emphasizing how programs such as EJ’s PJs enrich and enliven the greater Middle Country area.

“It has just grown immensely, and the participation by our community is just heartwarming,” he said. “Around the holidays is the perfect time. It allows everyone to get the joy of giving into their lives,” adding, “I’m honored to be a part of it, to contribute to it and enjoy it here in a location where we know we’re helping others.”

Washington offered her expectations for next year’s event. Witnessing this year’s enthusiasm for the organization, she forecasts even more pajamas in 2023.

EJ’s PJs gets “bigger and better every year,” she said. “I feel that this is going to grow exponentially. Next year, when we talk about the number of pajamas, I think it will be an exponent of this year.”

LaValle sees Middle Country uniting around a common purpose through this annual tradition. He expressed similar enthusiasm for the future as the community continues to come together to donate pajamas.

“Our fire department is here, our youth civic is here, our regular civic members are here,” he said. “These are all sorts of organizations from the Middle County community coming together for a great cause.”

He added, “This is a great event. It’s bringing everybody together. You’re seeing a lot of smiles here, all around giving to those less fortunate in our community and throughout our township.”

Summarizing the purpose for holding this event every year, Poggi explained the collective anxieties felt by parents to provide their children with a happy Christmas morning. For her, donating pajamas is a gesture that can go a long way in supporting those parents and their children.

“As a parent, I know how hard it is to pull off the beautiful Santa magic, and it’s not always very easy, especially when you don’t have the funds,” she said. “Something like a pair of pajamas alongside a gift can make it even that much more elegant. To have a child feel warm and cozy and protected, that’s always our number one mission.”

Photo by Julianne Mosher

It was certainly not an “unbearable” day.

On Sunday, Nov. 21, the Town of Brookhaven teamed up with the Red Knights Motorcycle Club NY Chapter 26 for its annual “Teddy Bear Run.”

Each year, the club holds the event to collect donations of new Teddy Bears for thousands of needy children through the Town of Brookhaven Youth Bureau INTERFACE program. 

Bikers from across the Island then ride together from the North to South shores for a participation fee and toy donation.

Stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes were donated at the Terryville Fire Department Headquarters in Port Jefferson Station where hundreds of riders met before heading to their final stop — Painter’s restaurant in Brookhaven.

“I want to thank the Red Knights Motorcycle Club for their generosity and continued support of this program,” said Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “These contributions will make it possible for so many children in need to experience the joy of opening a gift this holiday season.”

The Red Knights are an international firefighters motorcycle club and have been co-sponsoring the Teddy Bear run for nearly two decades. 

“These guys, their day job is being heroes,” said Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook). “They spend their off-time getting involved in good causes like this and we really appreciate these guys so much.”

— All photos by Julianne Mosher 

Town of Brookhaven's Youth Bureau head Josephine Lunde, along with Centereach resident and matriarch of the donation drive EJ's PJs Patricia Poggi stand among the hundreds of pajamas donated for children who need them. Photo from Poggi

Ten years on, and a Centereach family and friends are still donating pajamas for kids to warm themselves during the holiday months. This year, despite the pandemic, has been their biggest drive yet.

Hundreds of pajamas were donated to the Town of Brookhaven’s INTERFACE program to help give kids that warm holiday feeling on these cold nights. Photo from Patricia Poggi

The Centereach Poggi family, which includes mom Patricia and her three sons, started EJ’s PJs in 2011 when the mother’s brother asked her two older sons, Edward and Jeremy, to find a charity to donate to instead of giving them gifts. 

“Because we always wore ‘Poggi plaid’ pajamas on Christmas morning, we came up with the concept to start our own pajama drive so that clouds would be able to feel warm, comfy and cozy and have a fresh pair or brand new pajamas feeling,” Patricia Poggi said.

Her youngest son, Patrick, was 1-years-old when it got started, and now he is 11, having grown up participating in the drive.

At first, their drive included just a single bin on the front porch of the Poggi residence, but now with the support of many local shops throughout Brookhaven, EJ’s PJs has ramped up to include 22 drop off boxes all throughout the town. 

Last year, I started getting into a few businesses to help us in hopes that our 10th year would get us to our highest and it did,” Patricia Poggi said.

Jeremy Poggi, a student at Centereach High School, helped facilitate work with one of the school clubs to generate extra donations. 

“This year was easily our biggest year,” he said. 

And in a year of COVID, when more and more people are struggling financially, such generosity is felt even moreso.

“We are thankful for the support of our new and existing partners who are committed to make this 10th year our biggest pajama drive yet,” Messina wrote in an email. “In a year where the world has been turned upside down, we are grateful to be able to do our small part with the community’s assistance to provide a warm and cozy pair of pajamas to children and teens in need.”

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Santa leaves some lasting impressions at the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber's drive-thru Santa event Dec. 5. Photo by Jeff Kito

It might have been as cold as the North Pole last Saturday, but local chamber and civic volunteers still managed to put on a night full of true holiday spirit.

Over 100 cars packed tight with families and children circled around the parking lot to the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber-owned train car Dec. 5 for a magical night of a visit to Santa, where kids also had the opportunity to their present wishlists to the big man in red, all postmarked for the North Pole.

Chamber members and other community volunteers struggled in the cold rain throughout the day to put together the nighttime event, but both leaders and volunteers said on seeing the expression on childrens’ faces, the effort was well worth it.

The event also contained both a food and toy drive. Multiple bags stuffed with food were donated to St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church’s food pantry, while a large box full of toys was given to the Town of Brookhaven INTERFACE program.