The Herald on Sunday is working with the Middlemore Foundation on a campaign to get needy kids into warm pyjamas this winter. Cherie Howie finds out why you should help.
Julie Carroll calls it the Ministry of Magic. It's actually the Middlemore Foundation, a charitable trust that supports and raises funds for health services provided by the Counties Manukau District Health Board.
No magical powers, officially.
But Carroll has been charmed. The child protection clinical nurse specialist has seen smiles return to the faces of kids who've been through hell, their trauma eased by something as simple as a new pair of pyjamas.
"These kids leave more positive than when they walk in. It's such a good thing to be able to give them something nice when they leave."
The foundation might be Carroll's "Ministry of Magic", but the magic starts closer to home.
It starts with you.
The Middlemore Foundation is about to launch its Jammies in June fundraiser with a street appeal starting on Saturday.
The Herald on Sunday is backing the campaign and wants businesses and the public to collectively donate $40,000 cash and 10,000 pairs of new pyjamas, for newborns up to adult sizes.
All cash donated will be used to buy more pyjamas, as well as blankets, socks and other items to keep kids toasty warm this winter.
Foundation public relations officer David Kemeys is part of a team driving the fundraiser, which is supported by dozens of businesses, including Countdown, ASB Bank, the Warriors and Farmers.
Donated pyjamas are already arriving — the first boxes. Farmers Department Store has sent through the first batch, comprising 1,600 pairs. Kemeys opens a box and pulls out a cosy-looking pink and white bunny onesie.
A few feet away he spots boxes containing 500 polar fleece blankets, donated by homeware retailer queenb. The fabric is soft and thick.
"They're really good quality ... we've got a massive head start from these guys. We're over the moon with what they've done," Kemeys says.
Cash donations are preferred because bulk buying means the foundation can buy twice as many pyjamas with donated cash than an individual can.
All cash donations go directly to the fundraiser, he says.
"We don't clip the ticket at all."
Jammies in June started in 2013 when 4,200 pairs of pyjamas were donated along with $17,800 in cash. Last year, 5,400 pairs of pyjamas went to kids in need, and donations topped $20,000. If people prefer to give pyjamas, rather than cash, that's okay, he says.
The end result is the same — kids in need will be clad in warm sleepwear this winter.
As well as helping those passing through Middlemore's Kidz First Hospital, new pyjamas will be given to their siblings and other kids, through organisations like Plunket, teen parent units, refugee centres and as part of the B4 School Check initiative.
Health and social service providers fill car boots with the donated PJs before going into their communities, he says. "Everything that comes in goes out. They all find a home."
The pyjamas are as valuable for what they bring as much as what they help keep away. Every winter sick kids fill the wards of Kidz First, at times beyond capacity.
Most are suffering from preventable illnesses, particularly respiratory ailments, Kemeys says.
Jammies in June isn't about "changing the world", but helping others in whatever way we can.
"It's just warm 'em up so hopefully we won't have to spend a lot of money in hospital because their asthma has flared up again."
Kidz First admissions skyrocket in winter, more than doubling from around 320 in January to 700 in August, Kemeys says.
For struggling families, hard as they try, the budget simply doesn't stretch to warm sleepwear.
"If you spend $25 on pyjamas and you've got three kids, that's $75. That's probably their food budget for the week."
Child poverty is a reality for thousands of Kiwi kids who do not consistently have food, warmth, clothing, education or healthcare. The Child Poverty Monitor pegged that number at 180,000, or 17 per cent of children living in New Zealand, in its 2014 report.
The monitor, a partnership project between the Children's Commissioner, JR McKenzie Trust and Otago University, also found almost a quarter of Kiwi kids live in income poverty. Income poverty is based on the amount of money families have to pay bills and buy essential everyday items.
Of the 260,000 children considered to live in income poverty, 37 per cent are from households where at least one adult is working.
Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills sees the consequences of child poverty every winter. The Hawkes Bay paediatrician watches hospital wards "fill with preschool Maori, Pacific and poor children" from cold, damp houses where families crowd together in one room to keep warm each night.
"If one child brings a cold home from school, everybody gets it. It's normal for everybody to be sick most of winter. Of course, it's the baby who is most affected and ends up being admitted to hospital."
Parents know crowding spreads disease, but their kids' bedrooms are too cold to be slept in. "They're often working on low wage or zero-hour contracts. They work as hard as they can. They budget much better than most of us can. But their incomes are just too low and their costs too high — particularly housing costs, and especially in Auckland.
"Families I'm seeing are choosing between either putting food on the table or paying the power bill, there's nothing left for pyjamas.
"So, if they've got warm pyjamas and a warm bed and the kids are sleeping in their own bedrooms, they're much less likely to get those respiratory infections, to be able to stay at school and learn.
"It's a terrific idea this programme and if people ... can donate that'll make a big difference to the lives of those children," he says.
The annual cost of poverty in New Zealand — including the impact on health, crime, social welfare and lost productivity — is $6-8 billion, Wills says.
"Poverty does not just affect the poorest kids, it affects all of us. It's in all of our interests to make sure that we invest in those kids who are living in cold, damp houses and who are living in poverty."
Manurewa mum Tiare Henare received a pair of PJs for her son, Moana, when he spent time at Kidz First last year. The monster-patterned jammies were a big hit with the 9-year-old.
"He loves them. They were a really nice little bonus when you've been sick a lot."
Moana suffers from mild lung disease and staying warm keeps him well. Henare is an employment consultant in mental health, but it was a long road to employment, and the pyjamas were appreciated.
"Things like Jammies in June and the warm homes [initiatives], all of that stuff is really helpful in keeping him well ... for me it has been great to have that support."
Back at Kidz First, the hospital's play specialist services' team leader, Robyn Maria, is one of the lucky people who gets to hand out the prized PJs.
The children who receive the pyjamas come from families working hard to make their lives better, Maria says.
Jammies in June helps.
"We want to support that."
She opens a just-arrived parcel from Napier.
Inside are a pair of horseprint pyjamas with sparkly buttons that are going to make a 2-year-old girl very happy.
"What a lovely, lovely pair of pyjamas, they're gorgeous," she says.
Wrapped inside is a surprise extra, a soft toy. It will soon be in the arms of a sick or injured child.
Donations have come from as far away as Australia and Maria's office will soon be crammed with parcels like the one sent by a kind woman in Napier.
Some are sent by children themselves, and contain heartfelt notes. Others are hand-delivered by elderly women, who leave quickly because they don't want a fuss made.
All she could say to those who helped was thank you.
"This is about community supporting community and you don't hear that a lot.
"You often hear the sad stories, you don't hear the wonderful, selfless work of men and women ... it's a pleasure that people give to us, so we can give to others."
Mile-wide smiles greet simple gift of jammies
At Angela Iwihora's place, three beaming little faces meet you at the door. They're clad in fish, stars and robot PJs and boy, are they happy.
If smiles made money, 9-year-old Giselle Iwihora and her little brothers, Jackson, 3, and D'Angelo, 19 months, would be rich.
The Papatoetoe siblings were feeling pretty special when the Herald on Sunday visited this week — all three had just been given new pyjamas as part of the Jammies in June programme. A stack of other pairs were put aside for their six siblings.
Bedtime is still several hours away but the trio proudly wear their new sleepwear.
Fourth-eldest Giselle can't stop grinning about her star-patterned PJs.
"I like stars and my favourite colour is blue," she says by way of explanation for her choice.
For their solo mum, Angela Iwihora, the donation means one less thing to worry about.
She has plenty to worry about.
She and her nine children survive on the domestic purposes benefit, and youngest child, D'Angelo, is frequently in hospital because of respiratory and other problems related to a double cleft palate.
Five of her children are asthmatic and winter — when her power bills skyrocket to $500 or $600 a month — is a struggle.
Iwihora would have bought her children pyjamas. But it would have taken a long time.
"I couldn't do it all at once. I would've had to buy one a week."
Now her kids are happy and warm in their new pyjamas, and the whole family are grateful to those who donate, she says.
"Any help is great. My kids appreciate anything given to them. "They are really happy, they wanted to wear them straight away."
Because she has spent so much time in hospital with D'Angelo, she has seen many other sick kids receive donated pyjamas through the programme, which is in its third year.
That's why she wants to help the Jammies in June campaign by speaking to the Herald on Sunday, despite the risk others will judge her because of her circumstances.
"I've seen the smiles of all the kids. It makes a difference, especially when they're already sick. "You don't know what a pair of pyjamas will do until you see that."