Meaghan Hinckley, 34, is not one to watch daytime TV.
But as a new mom adjusting to being at home full time after leaving her position as director of early childhood development at Discovery Place, she was bored one day in 2006 and turned on "Oprah."
The show Hinckley chanced upon featured Genevieve Piturro, a homeless-shelter volunteer discussing her observation that many homeless children sleep in their street clothes because they don't own pajamas.
Piturro founded the Pajama Program, a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide children in need with pajamas and books.
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Piturro explained that most children who live in shelters, orphanages and group homes have never enjoyed the simple comfort of putting on a cozy pair of pajamas and having a mother or father tuck them in at bedtime and read to them.
Piturro was trying to change that and was hoping to establish Pajama Program chapters in every state.
Hinckley was impressed with the simplicity of the Pajama Program's mission to provide nothing more than books and pajamas to kids in need. She was so moved and inspired that she immediately contacted the program's New York headquarters to see how she could get involved.
That phone call led to her starting a Charlotte chapter.
The Pajama Program is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and Hinckley, eager to find an outlet for her energy and background in early childhood development, has served as the Charlotte Chapter President since 2007.
She has lined up seven local receiving organizations, such as Thompson Child and Family Services and the Nazareth Home for Children, "to ensure that whatever is contributed in our community stays in our community."
The contributions are plentiful and appreciated. Hinckley was able to deliver a lot of warm pajamas and books in November and December, her busiest months, thanks to partnerships with several national campaigns.
Scholastic Books donates a book for each pair of pajamas donated during its book fairs at local schools, and all 11 Charlotte Starbucks stores collected pajamas and books in November and December, allowing Hinckley to donate more than 1,400 books to children in need last year and more than 2,000 pairs of pajamas in December.
Hinckley also spearheads local initiatives that highlight the Pajama Program and the needs it addresses, such as a donation drive sponsored by the Motorcross Racing Outreach that yielded more than 3,000 pairs of pajamas. She also oversees the Charlotte implementation of the Pajama Program's national campaigns.
She recently kicked off the 2011 Open Your Heart fundraising and awareness campaign that runs through Feb. 28.
"Giving a child in need a pair of warm pajamas and a book to read is like giving them a hug before they go to bed," said Hinckley. "So as we all celebrate Valentine's Day with loved ones - and especially during the cold month of February - our volunteers and supporters hope to send these cuddly, loving hugs to thousands of kids."
Wolfman Pizza restaurants throughout the Charlotte area will offer a complimentary order of breadsticks to diners who make a donation to the Pajama Program's Open Your Heart campaign. The Quail Hollows Wolfman Pizza is encouraging children who enjoy the Kids Eat Free night Feb. 15 to come in their pajamas.
For Hinckley, the appeal of the Pajama Program's simplicity is a lesson she hopes to impart to her children: Brayeden, 4, and Eliana, 2.
"In this day of iPods and cell phones," she said, "it is encouraging that a pair of pajamas and a book can mean so much to a child."
Hinckley said she often is reminded of how much the donations mean to their recipients after she makes a delivery and sees their looks of delight and excitement.
Renee Bromfeld, director of communications for the Bethlehem Center of Charlotte, described one child's reaction to receiving a pair of Superman pajamas, which he asked to change into immediately upon receiving them.
"In a minute, he appeared, almost like Clark Kent, with a newfound sense of pride and self assurance. What a gift," said Bromfeld.
Hinckley, who now teaches at the Harris YMCA Preschool Academy and is "crazy busy" with her two children, is happy to continue to donate time, energy and passion to this cause and organization.
"And when my kids see all the books and pajamas piled up in our house, awaiting delivery," said Hinckley, "I know they appreciate how lucky they are."