Kate and Syd Mcquigan have had their living room overrun with presents for Project PJ's

Kate and Syd Mcquigan have had their living room overrun with presents for Project PJ's

Despite ALS, Kelowna woman helping children

Kate Mcquigan isn't letting her terminal illness prevent her from providing children with gifts on Christmas

ALS has taken many things from Kate Mcquigan including the ability to walk and the use of her hands, but it hasn’t taken away her desire to help others.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a terminal illness during which the affected person’s muscles slowly stop working over time, usually three or four years.  Mcquigan was diagnosed in 2010, and although she is now confined to a wheelchair, she has orchestrated ‘Project PJ’s’, a fundraiser to provide children with pyjamas and books for Christmas.

Mcquigan’s idea for the campaign stems from her vision of a Christmas scene; a young child in his or her pajamas reading a book with their loved ones after a bath.  Mcquigan is aware many children will have neither the pajamas nor a book on Christmas, and she intends to change that.

“This has been a dream of mine, I feel reading is so important to children,” she said.  “When I volunteered at a school for six years, I saw kids and when we would send them home with a book, I would ask them if they had a lot of books and they would say they only have one.  I couldn’t imagine a child only having one book to choose from.  On pajama day they would all come in their pajamas, and for a lot of them they were too small or threadbare.  A lot of kids would also come to school in clothes they had worn the day before, and they had obviously slept in them.  So I thought it would be nice for them to have pajamas.”

Mcquigan has participated in numerous fundraisers as a volunteer before, but never as an organizer or to this scale.  As of December 14th, Mcquigan, her husband Syd, and other friends and family had purchased and wrapped 462 gifts, each containing pajamas and a children’s book.  Project PJ’s has been far more successful than Mcquigan ever imagined, and when she saw all of the gifts together she was overwhelmed with amazement at what they had accomplished.

“I’m very, very happy,” she described of seeing her dream of helping children come true.  “I feel peace and serenity that I’ve accomplished this.  One of my hopes is that when I’m gone, my family and friends will continue this.  That’s my hope.”

The majority of the pajamas and books came out of the Mcquigan’s wallet.  They fronted the entire initial bill for the gifts, to the tune of $6,674.54.  While they noted they had no problems paying as much as was needed themselves, they are looking for donations to help cover the cost and support Project PJ’s.  They have received about $1,700 so far, and will be accepting donations until Christmas.  To make a donation, call the Mcquigan’s at 250-762-7830 or stop by EmbroidME on Gordon Drive.

As a nurse since the 70’s, Mcquigan explained giving and helping others is who she is, which is why she is still determined to help as many people as she can even though ALS has taken many of her bodily functions from her.

“I realized that at 60 years of age I have accomplished a lot, but I felt like I should get busy and do other dreams, and this is something I dreamed of,” she said.

The Salvation Army is assisting Project PJ’s, and will be handling the distribution to the families and children.  Mcquigan has had remarkable support from her friends and family, particularly her husband Syd, who purchased and shopped for all of the books and pajamas by himself.  Mcquigan is hoping that can leave an impact behind her.

“Even with an illness such as ALS, I have still been able to use resources such as family and friends to accomplish a dream in helping others,” she noted.  “I feel if I can do that, than anyone can do anything, and I just hope some people are inspired from that and they go out and help others, not only this holiday season but all through the year.  That’s one of the things that I hope comes from this.”


Kelowna Capital News