Sweeter dreams for children in need.

One night in Karachi, Pakistan, I saw a child under a tarp, just lying there in the cold. It really shook me,'' says Murray Dryden of Toronto, Canada. The image lingered in his mind, and one December, on the way home from the family's Christmas tree farm, he was struck with a plan to provide comfortable bedding for needy children in developing countries.

''I was so excited about the idea I couldn't wait to tell my wife,'' recalls Mr. Dryden, a retired businessman, avid photographer, and father of three (including former National Hockey League goaltenders Dave and Ken Dryden). Since that moment of inspiration 14 years ago, Mr. Dryden and his wife, Margaret, have helped thousands of children who spend their nights in alleyways, open fields, and on sidewalks.

This year their small organization, called Sleeping Children Around the World (SCAW), provided 11,000 ''slumber kits'' to children in Pakistan, northern and central India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The kits consist of a mattress and rubber ground sheet, two pairs of cotton sheets, two blankets, one pillow, two pairs of pajamas or other garments, and either one mosquito net or an extra blanket, according to the climate.

Since the beginning of the program in 1970, ''We have put 76,000 children to bed,'' says Mr. Dryden, who can only begin to respond to the pleas for help pouring in from developing countries. ''It's like putting your finger in the dike. The need is so great.''

Initially, the Drydens used $3,000 of their personal money to launch a pilot project testing their idea. They sent $1,500 to the YMCA in Bombay and $1,500 to the Salvation Army in Bandung, Java, asking each of the organizations to make 100 bedding packages.

In August 1970 Mr. Dryden traveled to India to make the first distribution of beds to an orphanage in Puna, about 200 miles from Bombay. Since then he has made a two- or three-month trip every year to countries such as Africa, Pakistan , and nations in Southeast Asia to distribute slumber kits. Mrs. Dryden stays in Toronto to oversee the business end of their project, assisted by about 30 volunteers.

''Working for five companies in the building materials business is a cinch compared to navigating in the cultural waters of 18 countries,'' says Mr. Dryden , referring to his former profession. ''My trip every year is like a jigsaw puzzle. I spend hours, like a general, poring over the maps of the world to plot my itinerary.'' Retired friends have accompanied him on recent trips.

To implement their program, the Drydens work with branches of organizations such as the Salvation Army, Rotary, the Kiwanis, and the Canadian Jesuits in various countries. The agencies assemble the slumber kits with money from SCAW and have them ready when Mr. Dryden arrives for the distribution process. They also select the children who will receive bedding on the basis of need.

The slumber kits vary according to the location. If there is any surplus money after producing the bedding, a towel, a cake of soap, or more clothes may be included.

''We try to be flexible. We don't want to give the children something they're not going to use,'' says Mr. Dryden. ''The agencies are close enough to the children to know what they need.''

Producing the kits in the country of distribution also helps the local economy, he says. ''We pay people to make the beds and often feed them while they're doing the work.'' In Darjeeling, India, for example, 55 women supported their families for a year working on slumber kits.

SCAW is funded completely by private donations.

Each $25 contribution supplies one child with a slumber kit. So far, approximately 80 percent of the funds come from Canada, 15 percent from Australia, and 5 percent from the United States. School groups are an important source of contributions. One elementary school in Brampton, outside Toronto, raised more than $30,000 in three years to donate to SCAW.

Unlike most care programs, all the money donated goes directly toward the slumber kits. The Drydens dip into their own pockets for publicity, administrative costs, and travel expenses.

Because every cent counts, Mr. Dryden carefully monitors the use of funds sent to the various service organizations. All too often, he says, money sent to developing countries through government and other programs fails to reach its target. ''I want to see the child carrying away the bed,'' he says.

Once the child receives the slumber kit and sets it up, Mr. Dryden takes a color photograph of the child snuggled in his or her new bed, holding a label with the donor's name and address. Later, the photograph marked with the location of the child is sent to the donor.

''The pictures we take are the key to the whole program. Otherwise, it's just a check-writing exercise (for the donors),'' he says.

For the Drydens, one of the most rewarding aspects of the project is the gratitude of the recipients. The response from children and parents is ''just unbelievable,'' says Mr. Dryden. ''You can tell by their smiles and gestures they're just overwhelmed.''

The address for Sleeping Children Around the World is 28 Pinehurst Crescent, Islington, Ontario, M9A 3A5, Canada.

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