by Ryan G. Van Cleave
When Sheila Birnbaum sees a need, she feels an obligation to do something about it. That’s surely thanks to her long career up in the Northeast as a patient advocate, which means she spent decades helping others.
Birnbaum’s first initiative was The Pajama Game. She sent hundreds of letters asking people to donate new pajamas and books when they come together for social gaming, such as card games, board games, or bingo. That initiative gave more than 250 children books, cozy new pajamas, and soft stuffed animals. These items provide a sense of comfort and security to at-risk children who are served by JFCS of the Suncoast.
And three years ago, when she realized that veterans and the homeless in our community often don’t have an adequate supply of socks, she acted. “It’s unacceptable,” says Birnbaum. “Some of the homeless walk 4,000 miles per year but don’t have any socks. And when veterans come back home and start looking for jobs, many don’t have dress socks. They come to career counseling but suddenly realize they don’t have the appropriate brown, black, or blue socks required to look professional at a job interview.” So she partnered with JFCS of the Suncoast to address that need. Soon after, the community responded by giving 4,000 pairs of socks.
Her latest cause? Fighting illiteracy. “Over 35 million people can’t read beyond a third-grade level,” she says. “It’s a staggering statistic, but it’s why I’m making an ongoing commitment to fight the illiteracy crisis on a local level.” That’s what her “Take a Look—Buy a Book—Donate” campaign is all about. Designed to promote literacy to children from Pre-K to 5th grade—with an emphasis on low-income and at-risk children—the program seeks to provide new books to area youth. She ran the program last February and March, and thanks to its success, she plans to do it again in 2018 during those same months.