Robeson, Leal competing in a giving way
Pajama collecting isn't the sport you'd necessarily think of for the newest cross-town rivalry, but students at Robeson Elementary in Champaign and Leal Elementary in Urbana don't care.
The schools each want to collect the most new pajamas to donate this holiday season to Salt and Light in Champaign.
A competition gets kids excited, said Robeson second-grade teacher Tonia Kirby, who is in her third year of organizing the collection.
Tiffany Clark, a third-grade teacher at Leal who's organizing that school's first pajama collection, agreed.
"We're trying to get buy-in," Clark said.
And there are high stakes — both schools will have a pajama day Dec. 14, the deadline for collections. If Robeson collects the most pajamas, Clark will have to wear a Robeson T-shirt that day, and if Leal collects the most, the same goes for Kirby.
But it's all good-natured, Kirby said.
"We're all winners because we're all doing something for our community," she said.
Clark and Kirby met at a Teaching American History workshop that included teachers from both Champaign and Urbana.
They became friends, and Kirby recruited Clark to get Leal involved.
It's Kirby's third year of collecting pajamas, as a part of a national drive called the Pajama Program. For every pair of pajamas donated, Scholastic will also donate a book to Salt and Light.
Kirby comes from a family in which it's tradition for kids to receive a new pair of pajamas on Christmas Eve. The pajama drive is an opportunity to provide for those who can't afford new pajamas.
"It's about getting kids something cool and unexpected," Kirby said. Last year, students at Robeson collected about 170 pairs.
In previous years, Kirby and a few of her students and their parents have done to Salt and Light on the first day of winter break, and surprise those picking up food with a pair of pajamas.
She said she often sees surprised faces, tears of joy and comments like, "My kids will love these," and "What a wonderful thing you've done."
She said the students she takes feel like they're running their own pajama shop.
"They love helping find sizes and making recommendations for them," Kirby said, like whether a son would prefer Scooby Doo or dinosaur pajamas.
"That is the coolest part for me, watching my students give out the PJs to the families," Kirby said.
Clark said students at Leal are excited and will come running in, saying, "Look, I've got these pajamas."
"The response has just been absolutely charming," Clark said.
How to help
Leal Elementary in Urbana and Robeson Elementary in Champaign are both accepting pajama donations from the public until Dec. 14.
If you'd like to donate, you can find Leal at 312 W. Oregon St., U, and Robeson at 2501 Southmoor Dr., C.
Both schools have security buzzers on the doors, so you'll have to press the button and wait for the door to be unlocked.
There's a donation box near the front door at Robeson, and you can drop them at Leal in a box near the front office.
Organizers are asking for new pajamas in sizes from newborn to XXXL boys' and girls'.