Conant student helps collect more than 200 pajamas for the needy

By: Robin Ruehlen | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published December 21, 2012

 Conant Elementary School fourth-grader Elana McEwen organized a pajama drive that collected more than 200 sets of sleepwear for needy children.

Conant Elementary School fourth-grader Elana McEwen organized a pajama drive that collected more than 200 sets of sleepwear for needy children.

Photo courtesy of Karen McEwen

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — Elana McEwen’s nickname is, “the girl who is always smiling.” But what gives Elana the most joy is making others smile, and helping those in need.

The Conant Elementary School fourth-grader recently helped organize a November pajama drive that collected 204 pairs of sleepwear for needy families, as part of the Scholastic Great Bedtime Story Pajama Drive.

“I wanted to help the needy, and the kids who don’t have pajamas for the winter. I thought it would be nice,” Elana said.

The Scholastic Pajama Program is a nonprofit organization that provides new books and new pajamas to children in need, many of whom are waiting to be adopted. For each pair of pajamas donated, Scholastic donates one book to the program.

Elana recruited her friends to help her create and color posters to hang on the walls of her school, as well as fliers to pass out to each classroom. She personally spoke to each class about the drive and also gave a presentation to the Conant Parent Teacher Organization.

“I thought we would get maybe 115, but one day, I went around and checked all the boxes, and we had 100. The next time I checked, it was 200. And finally it was 204,” she said.

Conant Principal Pam Balas said Elana had been searching for some way to help those less fortunate for weeks.

“She had wanted to volunteer in soup kitchens, but she was told she was too young,” Balas said.

So she and her mother were checking around, and they came up with the Scholastic pajama drive instead. It was a wonderful thing to do. We’ll be holding an all-school pajama day on Friday, as a celebration for everyone’s efforts.”

Elana’s mother, Karen, said she is very proud of her daughter and noted that her daughter has always wanted to help the needy in any way she can, despite her own struggles with her health. Elana was born with a laryngeal cleft and primary ciliary dyskinesia. She spent the first four years of her life in and out of hospitals across the country, as her parents searched for a diagnosis. 

According to the American Lung Association, PCD is a rare, incurable genetic lung disorder that affects the cilia — the tiny, hair-like structures in the lungs that move mucus out of the airways. In PCD, the cilia do not function properly, causing blockages and infections in the lungs.

Although her laryngeal cleft was repaired with surgery, Elana must take six breathing treatments each day and more when she is ill.

“She has had many, many, many surgeries and procedures, but despite all that, she has a huge heart to help others,” Karen said.  

“It started when she was very young. Even when she was hospitalized, she was always very helpful to all the other kids in the playrooms at the hospital,” she said.

As for whether or not she will organize next year’s pajama drive, Elana, the girl who donated her Halloween candy to hospital patients in October and eight inches of her hair to Locks of Love one week ago, said she’s thinking about it.

“It was hard work!” she said.