Glen Penland lived a good life. He served his country in France during World War II as part of the Army Air Guard before the Air Force was formed. After his service, he came home to raise a happy, healthy family. When he passed away 10 years ago, his daughter, Gail Walker, knew she wanted to do something to remember him.
“It was kind of weird not buying Dad anything for Christmas, so I asked myself, ‘What can I do to honor him?’ ” Gail said.
At that time, Gail was working at Lee High School—right across the street from Tut Fann Veterans Home. Two weeks before Christmas, 2006, Gail said God brought her the idea to deliver pajama pants to all the veterans.
She estimated there would only be 50 veterans—Tut Fann doesn’t look very big from the outside—so she got 50 pairs of pajama pants and headed over to the veterans home. But when she got there, she discovered there were more than 150 veterans. So, Gail asked the staff to save those pajamas for the veterans who didn’t have family visiting.
Then she re-grouped.
The next year, she rallied her troops, got donations from the Rock Family Worship Center and set out to buy pajamas for all the veterans at Tut Fann Veterans Home. A few years after that, she enlisted the help of Challenger Middle School students. At first students just wrapped the pajamas, but later, they started donating money they raised from their annual winter dance. And a few years after that, Gail partnered up with First Baptist Church of Madison to raise more money for the pajamas.
In addition to the Rock, Challenger and First Baptist Church of Madison, there are several dear family members and friends who love veterans and contribute to this project each year.
These aren’t just any pants they’re giving those veterans, either. Gail has guidelines on what kind of prints she wants on those pajama bottoms. There is no camouflage—because she doesn’t want anything that could bring back bad memories for the veterans. She also doesn’t buy plain, solid colors—the more festive the better. Gail regularly collects Christmas prints, John Deere and other manly prints she knows the veterans might enjoy.
There are a handful of women at the veterans home who get feminine pajama bottoms.
In the past, people have tried to convince Gail to switch to gift bags instead of having each pair individually wrapped, but she stands firm in her decision.
“Everyone needs to tear paper on Christmas,” Gail said.
This year was a little harder. In September, Gail lost her mother and husband within a week of each other. Still, on Thanksgiving day, she set out to buy 45 pairs of pajamas at J.C. Penney’s.
In true Christmas spirit, Gail tries to make sure the cashiers and people in line behind her aren’t stressed out because she’s buying so many things.
While Gail doesn’t get to see the veterans open the gifts, she has seen how much they appreciate them. One year when she took the boxes over to the veterans home, she saw a veteran sitting in a wheelchair in the reception area. He immediately jumped into action—a definite byproduct of his military service—organizing the boxes and rearranging the office until there was enough room to fit them all.
The Community Journal deeply appreciates people like Gail who are out there helping our veterans, and we thank our veterans for their service to our country.