Stafford Township — Breanna would be 25 now. In her memory, her mom Chris O’Rourke organizes an annual collection of comfort items – pajamas, books, socks, blankets, slippers, stuffed animals – for 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.
The Manahawkin resident lost her daughter in 2011 to a pituitary hormone deficiency condition called panhypopituitaryism. Breanna was 16.
In spite of her illness, Breanna was a vibrant girl who faced every day courageously and never stopped making plans. She didn’t spend 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 in bold colors and adorned with inspirational quotes such as “Enthusiasm moves the world.”
At the same time, Breanna understood and accepted the reality of her condition. Shortly before she died, her mom recalls, she said, “Maybe I’m just here to teach people how to live and how to let go.”
That year, a family friend 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 will be determined soon. In the meantime, donations of 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 email@example.com.