Homemade pillowcases bring smiles to hospitalized NJ kids
EWING — New Jersey is home to four active chapters of a nationwide charity that has been bringing cheer to sick children for more than a decade.
The origin of Ryan's Case for Smiles was 12-year-old Ryan Kerr's osteosarcoma diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. His mother Cindy, an avid quilter, found Ryan's room "sterile" and "cold," and so she fashioned a pillowcase for his bed that quickly became the talk of his entire floor.
Following that, a victory in a contest sponsored by Martha Stewart gave Cindy Kerr's burgeoning efforts exposure and cash flow, and the organization has continued in Ryan's memory to provide at least 2 million pillowcases, and counting, to more than 350 hospitals.
Julia Bannon is coordinator of the Ewing chapter, one of about 120 in the U.S. and Canada. It joins three others in the Garden State: two in North Jersey (Morristown and Hackensack) and one serving South Jersey.
She said her group has a regular base of around 15 volunteers who cut, sew, launder, and package the pillowcases, and up to 100 people who assist with running events — although most of those events have been altered over the past year due to COVID-19.
Still, the core mission of Ryan's Case for Smiles is widely felt throughout Central Jersey.
"We are bringing something very simple into a child's room, but the impact goes far beyond the child," Bannon said.
Parents may be dealing with as many complicated emotions as their children upon a child's diagnosis, according to Bannon, and this small, customized touch helps everyone feel more comfortable in a trying time.
"They immediately are feeling welcomed, and almost safe, in a cocoon setting, they feel like this is a welcoming place," she said.
The Ewing chapter has interacted with numerous corporate partners in its three years of operation, like Johnson & Johnson, Kohl's, and L'Oreal, which have helped expand its reach.