By Ashley Meier
P.J.’s Forgotten Children is a local Utah organization that provides clothing and toys for children who suffer from mental illness. It helps outside of Salt Lake County, such as in Tooele, but gets the most of the referrals from inside Salt Lake County. They help children who have a parent or guardian that can’t provide for them due to their mental condition but is not limited to this. Some of the children are the actual patients themselves. P.J.’s Forgotten Children is partnered with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and this organization actually spreads awareness about mental illness while P.J.’s provides support. The organization reaches out to the community to receive help for these kids and one of their biggest times is during the holidays.
Many of the parents who suffer with mental illness also suffer from poverty. This can affect them heavily during the holidays. Research has shown that during the holidays depression rates are higher due to seasonal defective disorder. “Depression rates are always really high around the holidays, which is an increased risk factor for suicide. By helping parents provide Christmas [presents] for their kids [it] is a big relief [for them],” explained Teresa Galloway. Galloway is a student studying Social Work at the University of Utah who worked closely with children’s therapists in Tooele, Utah for many years. She helped by referring families who needed help to the organization.
The parents have a difficult time providing their children with gifts for Christmas. Through this organization, other families who are willing to help can contribute Christmas presents and clothing for these children. For each child, donating families will receive their child’s name and general information such as size and age. The organization asks the donator to provide 1-2 outfits, socks, underwear, a toy, a roll of gift-wrap, tape, any specified needs the child has asked for, and warm gloves. To give these parents a sense of providing for their children, P.J.’s delivers the presents unwrapped. This allows the parents to wrap the presents themselves and know what their children will be receiving Christmas morning.
As mentioned before, P.J.’s Forgotten Children finds families through referrals from therapists. These families need three things in order to be eligible for help: someone in the direct family suffers from mental illness, the family suffers from poverty, and the individual who is suffering must be receiving help through therapy. Once a family is identified as possibly needing aid during the holidays, the organization reaches out to them informing the family that there are resources available to them. They have to do this very carefully in case of offending anyone. But the families who do agree are very grateful for the help they receive. “Several times I was told P.J.’s was an answer to their prayers and the only way their kids would get anything that particular year,” Galloway explained.
A lot of the time the children are in custody of their grandparents. “I think there’s a lot of disruption in routine and family life,” Laura Pexton, a volunteer who works on the board for the organization explained.
Pexton has been volunteering for the organization for about eight years now and has been on the board for 5 years. The board consists of six people and is basically the core group of volunteers. They plan the fundraising for the organization, talk to the treasurer about expenses and are in charge of the amount of donations coming in.
Pexton explained that the company does many other things than just helping with Christmas presents. Throughout the year the therapists can refer families that need more help than just at Christmas time. This includes pregnant women who aren’t able to provide for their newborn. For these newborns they create a “Newborn Baby Basket”. These baskets include quilts, clothes, diapers and more. They delivered about 45 of these baskets last year.
They also put together backpacks for children returning to school. A lot of kids get discouraged when they do not have supplies they need in class. This isn’t restricted to just young children; it could be from elementary to high school ages. They put together 450 backpacks in 2015.
P.J.’s Forgotten Children is largely helped by groups of volunteers. The amount of volunteers varies each year and consists of church groups, people willing to sew, boy scouts, youth groups and more.
The volunteers have had plenty of experiences with all types of different families. Pexton told a story about a single mother who had suffered from mental illness. When she needed help P.J.’s was there for her to provide for her kids. Once she was in a better place, she decided to give back. She delivered a car full of clothes, toys, and other things to help the organization. She explained to them that she wanted to do what other families in the past had done for her. This just shows how grateful these families are for the help they receive through this organization.
Another story involved a family that Pexton has worked with recently. The family has no beds for their three kids to sleep in and the kids have to sleep on the floor. They asked for blankets and even asked for plates and cups. This isn’t the only case that families have asked for everyday items. Some kids ask for toothbrushes, shampoo or just clothing for their suggested Christmas gifts. In another extreme case the organization helped a family who’s house had burned down. They had quite literally nothing left and the organization came through to provide what they could for them.
Just hearing about what this organization does to help families can make one grateful for what they have. P.J.’s Forgotten Children wants to give back to the community to the people who really need it. If you would like to support a child this Christmas you can reach out to this organization by visiting their website at http://pjsforgottenchildren.org/ and clicking the “Sub for Santa” link on the right side.