Grosse Ile's Christmas Jammie Drive

December 3rd, 2020

Host: Ben Fogt

With Wendy Moco (Jammie Drive) and Theresa Bizoe (First Step)

Christmas Jammie Drive

2020, Ben Fogt

What's the Deal, Grosse Ile?


[0:00] [Ben Fogt] This is What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? a podcast about the people, places, history, and events that make Grosse Ile unique. I'm Ben Fogt. Let's get right to today's interview.

[0:11] Fairly often someone tells you something that happens in this community that you've never heard of and you find out that the thing has built up a loyal following over a decade.

[0:20] That happened to me a couple weeks ago when Wendy Moco called me about the Christmas Jammie Drive. Thank you so much, Wendy.

[Wendy Moco] My pleasure.

[B] And joining us is Theresa Bizoe from First Step, one of the many organizations that the Jammie Drive supports. Thank you for being with us, Teresa.

[0:37] [Theresa Bizoe] My pleasure, Ben. Thank you.

[B] Wendy, let's start with you. Tell me what the Christmas Jammie Drive is.

[W] Well, it's a simple little thing, actually, that has evolved into this enormous, little thing. About 12 years ago, in 2008, my sister-in-law and I, my sister-in-law Susie Williams, she and I decided to go to lunch one early Friday in December to celebrate Christmas with some of our friends. We went to the Country Club and had a nice lunch. There was probably, I think, 12 of us there at that luncheon, different aged women, all women. And at the last moment, we learned that the Middle School was collecting coats for a coat drive. So Susie called up everybody, "Hey! If you've got an extra coat in your closet, bring it and we'll drop them off at the middle school because we know about their coat drive." So I think we collected five or eight coats at that last minute. We had such a lovely time, such a nice afternoon, that we said "Let's do it again next year and everybody bring a friend or two." So the following year, we had 35 women show up for this little luncheon and we decided to put a twist on it saying "Bring a pair of new Christmas pajamas for kids and we'll donate those Christmas pajamas." So we did a little. We though we would get a couple pairs. I think we got somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-60 pairs.

[1:53] And so it kind of became this little secret but it didn't mean to be a secret. And people were like saying "Hey, I'm going to come to that Jaime luncheon. How do I get an invitation?" There's no invitation. Show up. Buy yourself some lunch. Bring her pajamas. So over the years it grew. It's kind of like that shampoo commercial. "You tell two friends. They'll tell two friends. They also talk to friends." So fast forward to our 12th year this year. Well actually, let's go back to 11th year, last year. We have 353 women crammed in the ballroom and every room available at the Grosse Ile Golf and Country Club for lunch, and we collected somewhere in the neighborhood of over 1500 pairs of pajamas. Over the eleven years that we've collected pajamas we have served over 6,000-6,500 kids with warm, fuzzy pajamas at Christmas time. It's a ritual that my sister-in-law and I both do with our kids at Christmas is give them a pair of new, warm, cozy pajamas and something the kids look forward. So we wanted kids that were less privileged to be able to share that experience because we know how much our kids liked it. It has blossomed into this huge event.

[3:08] About six years ago we, maybe five years ago, we started a little shopping component to it. So it gave the ladies something to do when they came into the country club and we got places like the women on the island that had their home businesses and Marie from the Grosse Ile Pet and Garden Center and when Ohana House was open and Sam at Hawthorne and Vine. They come and set up like a little pop up shop at the Country Club. And so women come in with their pajamas. They put their purses down and put their coats down at the table. They go over to the shops, looking. Spend some money to start off their holiday season. And so it's great for the women as a fun component to the afternoon and it's great for the little pop-up shops for the exposure and for extra holiday sales.

[3:52] So it's kind of turned into a scratch my back, scratch your back, you scratch my back type of thing throughout the island. And it's been very, very nice. People love it. People do love it.

[B] And it obviously does a lot of good.

[W] It does. It does a lot of good. So when we started collecting pajamas, and we had so many from that for even from that first year, I worked very closely with Terry Morreau. She's the director of Christian Services at Sacred Heart Church and she said, and I knew, Teresa Bizoe worked with First Step. And so Teresa said, "Absolutely, I'll take these pajamas to my kids" that are in her care. So that's where that relationship started. First Step has been one of our, was the original agency that benefited from this luncheon. We have since extended the invitation to a couple of other local agencies, as well, that benefit from the pajamas and then lots of churches throughout the Downriver, Detroit area also, for their food banks. Anybody that comes in looking for food we get in, obviously, they have kids with them. We give them pajamas. So there's never a pair that it goes unused. Each season. So that's great.

[B] It's fabulous. So this takes us to Teresa. First Step is doing work to prevent and heal the effects of domestic violence, right?

[T] Yes. So First Step has been around since 1978

[5:05] and we're a nonprofit organization that helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. We provide comprehensive services to individuals that have been affected by these crimes and all of our services are free. So we provide a shelter. We have a 24-hour helpline. We have a transitional housing program where there are apartments that people can go into once they leave the shelter.

[5:28] We have free counseling, free advocacy, legal clinics, entire wraparound services to help people if they need help getting protection orders. If they need help finding housing or seeking employment. We just really provide as much as we can to help people move from violence to safety.

[B] It's really important work and I imagine that this year has been particularly rough. What new challenges has First Step had to address in 2020?

[T] Well COVID has really had us focus on different ways of work like most any company, any shelter, any organization you know. Our number one priority is protecting the survivors that come to us and our staff and volunteers and so we really had to transform our way of work. First Step, in any given regular year, serves over 7,000. In between seven and eight thousand people come to us for help. So you think about it. We serve Wayne County. 7000 people that seek help from our services each year and that's unduplicated services. So that's a lot of people. What we've had to do is really transform how we serve those folks. So for instance, a lot of our in-person counseling that we've done through the years were now doing either phone counseling or video conferencing.

[6:44] And what we're finding is are the no-show rate is a little, is a lot, less because it's easier for clients to get to appointments because we're not having to travel. Sometimes it's hard for families to get away without being recognized by the abuser. Some of these challenges that we've had to do, to meet the needs during COVID have really helped us be able to serve our client in our shelter. We're struggling a little bit because we've had to decrease our census a little bit.

[7:14] We used to put two or more families in each suite and you due to covid-19 only putting one family in this week because that's what we got to do to keep them safe. Now we're sheltering probably between 20 and 30 people per night rather than you know 40 to 50. We're having to look at some other challenges and things that were doing. But we're seeing more people reach out to us than ever. Think the isolation of the pandemic, the stress of the pandemic and the stress of the economic conditions. We're seeing a lot of people reach out to us but I think a lot of families are afraid to go into a shelter because they're afraid. "Now will I get COVID if I go in, if I leave my house and I go out into the world? Is that going to expose me? Is that going to expose my family? What will we do if we get sick? What will I do if I cut my lifeline to these resources that I have now?" But it's really challenging for survivors.

[B] That health insurance component is probably a big part too.

[T] It is a big part and you know for many families we're able to get them access to Medicare, Medicaid, Health Care Clinics, and things like that, but it's really scary not to have

[8:22] a way to pay for medical needs you have.

[B] So how does the Jammie Drive help your organization then?

[T] Well first of all, we love Wendy and Suzie and all the people that work on this Jammie Drive. It's probably the event that gives me the best feeling of any event that we do. You imagine being a kid coming into the shelter. You had to leave your home. Your parents are fighting. One of your parents had to leave and go out into the dark of night to shelter. You don't have your stuff with you. You don't have your stuffed animals or your clothes. You just have on your back. So Jammie Drive allows us to really help kids feel safe and secure when they come into the shelter and I think it helps the parents feel better too because we're able to provide them these basic needs. These are new pajamas, warm pajamas, comfortable pajamas in the right size for the kids.

[9:16] And so we're able to do that and to that end we get enough pajamas from this drive that we're able to use them throughout the year when families come into the shelter and they need us. But we're also able to do something special for the holidays. So for the holidays what we've been doing is wrapping up the pajamas with, we have another donor that gives slippers and we pair them together. We surprise the kids with them in front of their doors. So like Wendy's Family Tradition, we're able to present those with kids for the holidays and people are just really grateful. Adult survivors are very grateful and the kids are excited to get them. A lot of these Jammies are super cute. I don't know if Wendy mentioned that but they've got the cute characters and they've got,

[10:00] I've seen pandas, athletic and hockey, and they're just really awesome and cute and warm and cozy. It really does make kids feel special.

[B] I was looking on the Facebook page for First Step and it displayed that there were some particular needs at the moment. When I looked at it last, hand towels and washcloths, I think, were listed. Is that a good way to keep abreast of what First Step needs? If there's another time when we want to feel like we can do some help for First Step.

[T] Absolutely, yeah. So on our website, we always keep our most current wishlist. Our website is,

[10:49] And we always have our most up-to-date wishlist on there. So I'm there right now. We have items like bath towels and, like you mentioned washcloths, those kinds of things. We are always in need of twin size new blankets. We're always in need of just a variety of things, hygiene products and shampoos, things that are consumable that people go through. Baby wipes, diaper cream, medicines, stuff like that. So if people want to give items, that's a great thing. Of course we encourage people to give to the Jammie Drive or if people want to make a monetary donation you can do that too on our website and you can designate it to our programs and we also have a pet center where families when they come into the shelter, they don't have to give their dogs and their cats away. They're able to bring their pets. It's a really great, great thing. It's called The ARK. It stands for Animals Receiving Kindness. We have a cat area, a dog area, and a family visitation room. Families can actually spend time with their animal companions when they're there.

[11:55] A lot of people like to give money if not for our shelter or children's programs but for this animal program.

[12:04] Our families are really very grateful for it because previous to building this, familyies had to find some place to put their pets, give their pets away.

[12:13] And that was really heartbreaking for the families.

[B] That's incredible. That's really nice. And then Wendy I understand some of the island retailers are collecting for Jammie Drive this year. Well actually I think we need to talk about what the Jamie Drive looks like this year, under covid-19.

[W] Yeah. So we weren't quite sure what we do be able to do. We knew we were not going to be able to have 300 women in a banquet room having lunch together. We just knew that wasn't going to be an option, but it's interesting on a non COVID year people in about early September, they start... they know where I work or they'll email me "When's the Jammie luncheon?" "Where is it going to be again?" "This year is it at the club?" "Can I get a table of 10?" In September people are asking me about this event that happens in December. So Susie and I kind of tossed ideas around and we thought "Well, we'll work real hard on social media because that seems to be a heavily traveled area for people" and we made some local connections with Marie at Grosse Ile Pet and Garden Center, Sam at Hawthorn and Vine, and Emily at Island Goods. We thought they could be a drop site and because it works kind of two ways. People are already on Macomb Street and hopefully that would have them frequent those stores more.

[13:36] And they've been generous enough, those three retailers, in offering a promotion to people that walk in with pajamas. I don't know. Like Marie is giving a 15 percent off coupon that they can use throughout the holiday season and the other stores are doing something similar to that. So that's nice. It still has that little bit of a shopping component to the the luncheon situation, even though we're not having lunch. We also have the convenience of if you want to order online

[14:05] ship it to me or some people I think have shipped to Sacred Heart because I keep the pajamas at Sacred Heart Church to store because I can't just possibly store 1500 pairs of pajamas in my house. I have received lots of shipments, lots and lots of shipments. Then we also have a cash donation if you want to bring cash to me that's fine too. We have a Venmo site. We are doing online giving through Sacred Heart Church. So there's many ways you can donate. You can order online, ship to me. You can drop off at the Sacred Heart Church or the country club or at any of those three retailers that I mentioned. There's lots of avenues, lots of options and all the stores have already had lots of pajamas donated and I've had to empty out the bins and take them to the church. And so it's a good thing. It's a really good thing people are still very, very, very supportive and very generous. So we're very very blessed.

[B] And we'll have links in the episode description that will take people to all those all those avenues. So we've covered all the nuts and bolts of how this works and how First Step works. I want to know how it feels to be part of these things. Wendy, what's it like to start something that's fun and then have it turn into this huge project but that really impacts so many people?

[15:30] [W] Well it's humbling and it's funny. My sister-in-law and I say all the time we're just making the arrangement with the club for lunch. I pick the menu but you're paying for your lunch and you're bringing pajamas. I'm not buying you lunch. Let's just get that clear. People love to thank us and we always like to reiterate we are not purchasing your lunch for you. You gotta buy your own lunch and bring pajamas. That's the way they have to get in. If you don't have pajamas, you can't get in it. We aren't really doing much other than giving the platform for this event to happen and it's very, very humbling. It's very humbling to be part of such an organization. We didn't ever intend for it to get this big. It was kind of an

[16:17] accident, if you will, a great accident. But we never thought it would get this big and we certainly never intended it for to get this big. But we're blessed that it has.

[B] My wife once worked for someone who famously called something an "Accident of History" and that seems to be applicable with this.

[T] And to me, because I've been attending this event since it started, the overwhelming feeling that you get when you go into this room of people that have given is just love. I mean it just feels like there's so much love in the room. There's so much friendship. There's so much care and it's one of my most favorite events that I attend throughout the year. And I get to connect with my old friends from Grosse Ile and from Sacred Heart Church and then just you know when you talk to all the other

[17:10] wonderful charities that also receive from this program, everybody's just very grateful. People have done this and as a recipient charity, we are just so grateful and I know I'm not supposed to thank you, Wendy but somebody had to come up with this plan and put this kind of love in the world and that's what you did. I am going to say thank you.

[W] Well thank you. Susie and I are happy to do it. Ben, there's a couple of other agencies that we've been helping out too that I wanted to just mention so that people have an idea of who they are. These ladies are walking into this luncheon not just with one pair, two pair. Some of them, they have a little competition between the two parties, two groups of lady friend groups.

[17:53] Who can bring the most pajamas? Stacy Lasky's group normally wins because she has a pile of friends and they bring in heaps of pajamas. We take care of Penrickton Center for the Blind.

[18:07] We take care of , we helped out Mimi's Mission in the past. We help First Step, obviously. Spirit of Christmas, out towards the Ann Arbor area. And then our churches. Our local churches St. Leo's, St. Gabe's and then St. Aloysius also are recipients and then the Knights of Columbus from Sacred Heart do a fantastic job of donating to other churches that our Church works with that are in need of things like this. So it's quite an organization. Oh and Covenant House in Detroit. And that's a particularly interesting situation because most of those kids are older and so they need women's and men's size pajamas and so we've got a crew of ladies that always do us really good and bring us lots of men's and women's size pajamas. Art and Soul which is also another organization that we help out with. So it's pretty cool. It's pretty amazing.

[B] That's a lot of groups.

[W] It is. It is.

[B] And then, Teresa, being part of an organization that directly helps people in probably their worst situations must make you very proud.

[19:15] [T] Yeah. I am very proud to work for First Step. I started as a student intern back in 1983, so nobody do the math on that because they'll get a feel for how old I am. I've been involved with the organization for a very very long time. I have met some of the most wonderful generous people that you can ever imagine. I work in fundraising and philanthropy and marketing for the organization but it's our counselors and our advocates that are the real heroes.

[19:40] They are there supporting survivors every single day. And the stories that they hear, the trauma that these survivors go through,

[19:51] it's very challenging work, very rewarding work. Very important work. And I just really feel thrilled to be able to support their efforts in serving the families that we do.

[20:04] [B] And thank you for that from all of us. So Wendy you told me that you listen to the podcast and I really appreciate that. Teresa, you wouldn't know about this yet, but each episode I ask guests to make a wish for Grosse Ile or the community at large. Do either of you have a wish you want to share with Grosse Ile?

[W] I do. I do. I think I know my wish for Grosse Ile is for everybody to be kind to one another.

[20:33] Be patient and be kind.

[20:37] We're all going to get through this. We are all going to be just fine. Be patient and kind.

[20:46] [B] All right. Theresa, how about you?

[T] I guess my wish would be to everybody on the island, I would just wish you peace and safety. That's what we do at First Step. And domestic violence can be in wealthy communities at the same rate as it is in impoverished communities.

[21:06] So I wish everybody on Grosse Ile and their children and their grandchildren and their families true peace and safety for their families.

[21:14] [B] Thank you, absolutely thank you.

[21:17] So again, Wendy and Teresa, I can't thank you enough for what you're doing and for sharing it with me today. I appreciate you and the difference you're making in metro Detroit and I appreciate how you're empowering others to do the same.

[21:30] [T] Ben, if I could add one thing I'd like to give our crisis line if it's not too late. If anybody listening has somebody, loved one or friend, that is experiencing domestic violence the first thing they should do is get to a safe place. And then call our 24-hour helpline. We have staff available every day of the year, 365 you know 24/7. And that number is

[21:55] 734 722 6800. And when somebody answers that helpline they're going to say "This is First Step. Are you safe?" And and then they're going to be able to explore with the caller what their needs are, what their goals are, what they want to accomplish, and we'll be able to share with them resources that we can help them be safe experience for their family.

[22:25] [B] Great. Thank you for that. And we'll have that all in the transcript and in the episode notes.

[T] I appreciate that.

[B] But I really, from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate what you're both doing and thank you for sharing it with me. It was something I probably never would have heard of.

[W] It was an accident actually for you and I to come up with this. I just wanted you to plug it. I wasn't looking for an interview but I'm glad I was able to do so.

[B] I think we'll plug it.

[T] Thanks for helping us spread the word. Our headquarters is in Plymouth and our shelters are in another city. We do service Grosse Ile. We have an advocate in the 33rd District Court which serves Grosse Ile. We have a Downriver office in Lincoln Park and so we are very active in serving survivors in the Grosse Ile and Trenton and the community Downriver. And so we're really just thrilled that you're able to help us share awareness about the organization.

[B] My pleasure and I realize that that organizations like yours don't want to share locations for a lot of the services because of the sensitivity of those things.

[23:33] Again thank you thank you so much.

[23:36] [W] Thanks, Ben. Happy Thanksgiving.

[B] Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

[T] Happy Thanksgiving and wishing you all good jammies and a Merry Christmas to all of you.

[23:46] How about that? Since this week contained Giving Tuesday, It’s appropriate to mention that all of these organizations can use a lot more than pajamas as well. The episode notes will contain links to help connect you with them if you miss your chance to get pajamas in for the Jammie Drive. I can’t thank Wendy Moco and Theresa Bizoe enough for sharing everything they have today.

I want to give a quick plug for an event the Podcast has coming up. On December 12th, we’re going to do a Socially Distanced Christmas Caroling thing. Details are on Facebook. Share it wide. We can cover Macomb Street and sing carols before heading to the shops for gifts and warmth or Centennial Farm for the Santa Claus visit. Next week’s episode is with Krista Ewbank, one of the directors of Grosse Ile’s Boar’s Head Festival. I know you’ll enjoy it.

What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? is recorded and produced by me, Ben Fogt. You can keep in touch with me through the What's the Deal, Grosse Ile? Facebook page or email me at

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Our intro and credit music is Mocktails in the Rain by Antii Luodo which is used through a Creative Commons license. Find more of his music on as Antii's Instrumentals.

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