By Scott Simmons
Dan Bellante has a history of being inspirational.
Years ago, he inspired young people to create art. He ran a studio in Fort Lauderdale and he taught at Broward Community College.
But now, the Highland Beach resident inspires others to help others.
Bellante hosts Pajama Parties at his home in Jamaica Manor.
No, his guests don’t wear jammies, but they bring them, sometimes by the dozens.
Working with Pajama Program’s Palm Beach County Chapter, Bellante collects pajamas and children’s books to be distributed to kids in need.
At his most recent Pajama Party — his fourth — Bellante hosted a dozen or so of his friends for a cookout and cocktails. They played a beach-movie trivia game, grilled burgers and hotdogs and laughed a lot.
“I hosted the first one in conjunction with my birthday,” says Bellante, who has no children of his own. “And instead of gifts, I said, ‘Let’s have a pajama party.’ ”
He estimates his parties have brought in more than 200 sets of pajamas and books to the Pajama Program, which then distributes the items to a variety of charities, including Adopt-A-Family of the Palm Beaches, AVDA, A Place of Hope, Boys and Girls Club, Caridad Center and The Haven, among others.
Since its inception, the Pajama Program has provided 880,000 new pajamas and new books to children across the country, operating 79 chapters in 42 states.
In Palm Beach County, the Pajama Program has hosted about 55 parties so far this year and distributed 9,000 sets of pajamas and books in the past three years, according to event coordinator Carole Brewster, who lives in Delray Beach.
Bellante comes by the pattern of creative giving honestly.
Born in California to a military family, he lived all over the country before the family settled in Miami, where Bellante attended high school. He later graduated from Florida Atlantic University.
For many years, he and Pamela Reeder have owned an environmental restoration business, in which they restore damaged native habitats in projects from the Keys north to Vero Beach.
Bellante had a hands-on approach — literally.
“I have green thumbs,” Bellante says. “I could get ’em in there and make ’em grow. It was very gratifying work.”
Among their projects: Carlin Park in Jupiter, Peanut Island near Riviera Beach, Munyon Island near North Palm Beach and wetlands near Pembroke Pines.
“We would be half-done and wildlife would move back,” Bellante says. “And everything we planted was protected.”
That business now focuses mostly on consulting and Bellante devotes time to Tinker Trading Company, his antiques, art and gift shop, in front of Tony T’s salon on Pineapple Grove Way in downtown Delray Beach.
“I always had an eye for funky, old things,” Bellante says. And his shop, which had everything from a carved wooden monkey to an exquisite Native American squash blossom necklace, lives up to that notion, as does Bellante’s home, which boasts original terrazzo floors and kitchen fixtures, complete with the pink 1959 cooktop.
Bellante says he loves life in Highland Beach.
“It’s such a pretty, quiet little area,” he says. “People are friendly, but respect your privacy.”
It also is a place where he can draw on lessons learned from his parents.
“My father was an artist who encouraged my ability, so I learned to draw some,” Bellante says. “And I bought fun stuff to use as gifts for friends.”
And that all goes back to the point of pajama parties and helping others.
“One of my fondest memories is being tucked in with a book by my parents,” he says. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
To learn more about the Pajama Program, log on to www.pajamaprogram.org. Or to organize a party, e-mail Carole Brewster at firstname.lastname@example.org.