Pyjama Patrol Offers Security, Comfort, Warmth, and Love to Children in Need
May 7, 2020 by Linus Ormsby
It was a cold winter night back in the days when the Festival of Lights was a popular Christmastime attraction in Niagara Falls. Thinking the seasonal display would provide an ideal outing for children from the Center for Joy, an after-school support program for inner-city kids, Sister Mary Francis Bassick assembled a group of Niagara University volunteers to help guide the children through the brightly colored displays. For one of those volunteers, the experience was life changing, having provided a close-up view of what it means to be poor.
Jennifer Muckler, Class of ’96, was a freshman looking to gain community-service hours as part of a religion class. She was assigned to Misty, a second-grader whose toes peeked through the holes in her sneakers. She was cold, so Jen offered her sweater and mittens to the shivering child. The sweater was welcomed, but Misty had an idea for the mittens. “You put one on and I’ll put one on. Then we’ll hold hands and we’ll both be warm,” she said.
Jen went home that night and told her mother she wanted nothing for Christmas. Whatever would be spent on her should be used to purchase clothing for children like Misty. That was the beginning of Jen’s life of giving back to others, and it has continued to this day.
During her undergraduate years at Niagara, the communications and marketing major continued to work with Sister Mary Fran, a Daughter of Charity who was director of the center on Michigan Avenue for nearly 10 years. The two still maintain contact, Sister from Harteeville, S.C., where she supervises a food pantry supported by Catholic Charities, and Jen, from her home in Kanata, Ontario, near Ottawa.
Jen, who spent one Christmas break with the BASIC (Brothers and Sisters in Christ) program in Harlem, credits her mother for planting the seed for charitable work, but notes that it was her personal experiences at Niagara that nourished her concern for the less fortunate. “Being part of the Vincentian community at Niagara, and seeing the good one can do, is something that changed me,” Jen says.
That desire to help those in need has been reflected in her various work experiences. After graduation, Jen was the volunteer coordinator for Parents Anonymous, a 24-hour hotline in Buffalo that assisted victims of abuse. For three years after leaving school, she was special events coordinator for Roswell Park Alliance in Buffalo. After that, she worked for a year as special events coordinator for Hospice Foundation of Western New York in Buffalo.
In 2005, she moved to Binghamton, where she was director of fund development and public relations for the Family Enrichment Network. It was there that her future husband, Domenic Nicoletta, was working as the head athletic therapist for the Ottawa Senators primary affiliate, the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators. The two had met, oddly enough, in her father’s office when her dad, John Muckler, the former Buffalo Sabres coach, was serving as general manager of the Ottawa Senators. Married in 2006, the couple returned to Ottawa three years later. Domenic is now the head athletic therapist for the Senators.
When the responsibilities of raising her two children became more manageable, Jen found herself again immersed in giving back to her community. In 2015, she formed the Pyjama (Canadian spelling) Patrol, the inspiration coming from an Adopt-A-Family program in Binghamton, which made her aware of the need for pajamas and prompted her to create a project that addressed that need.
For support, she recruited a group of about 20 like-minded hockey moms and other friends who collect and distribute pajamas to underserved children through various community service organizations. To date, more than 13,000 pairs have been given to children, teens, and adults in need of help.
Why pajamas? Because jammies were a need frequently cited by poor families. “I spoke with a social worker on our team, and she let me know it was something many of her families often went without,” Jen once told an interviewer. “Kids were sleeping in their street clothes or nothing at all. I knew this had to change, especially when I had my own kids and saw how happy pyjamas made them.” PJs, she maintains, give children a feeling of security, comfort, warmth, and love.
The support Pyjama Patrol receives from Ottawa-area communities has allowed it to expand its offerings to include socks, underwear, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and bedtime story books, all of which are in great demand. More than 25 charities, shelters, and schools that help families in need receive PJs and other supplies from the organization.
Jennifer says the entire community is the patrol part of Pyjama Patrol. Schools, public-service organizations, sports teams, and businesses throughout the Ottawa area help coordinate collections, especially at Christmastime, when hampers are located in stores, businesses, and offices during the four-week annual Pyjama Patrol Holiday Pyjama Collection. Schools and sports teams have collections throughout the school year and sport seasons.
Like individuals and organizations throughout the world, Pyjama Patrol is being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Collections have been suspended, as are distributions, until shelters again begin accepting them. Jen is especially concerned about the pandemic’s impact on the holiday collection. “We will not be able to help as many people as we would like for a little while, but that’s OK,” she says. “We are more focused on seeing our community and the many shelters and partners we support get the food and funding they need for their families. Pyjama Patrol will continue after COVID-19 because this need we support will never go away. We are determined to keep going, and we know our community is behind us.” Further information about the organization’s activities is also available at pyjamapatrol.com.
Jen, who is now marketing and business development coordinator at Baker Tilly Canada, a global accounting and consulting-services company, says she is fortunate to work for a company that “sees the community as I do.”
That world would be a place of security, comfort, warmth, and love, just like PJs, with an a or a y.