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Opinion: Three charity workers share how Covid changed fundraising without dampening spirits

The pandemic has affected the sector, but these three people from different charities say they’re still feeling bright about the spirit of giving.

We Act Campaign

From ensuring vulnerable people feel less isolated over Christmas, to providing the basics for those who have very little; thousands of staff and volunteers in communities across Ireland have been working away over the last few weeks to make Christmas a little more special for others. Here are the stories behind three of them…

Celine McNamee – plans the Allenwood GOAL Mile in Kildare every St. Stephen’s Day

celine-mcnamee Celine McNamee Source: Celine McNamee

“MY MOTHER PASSED away three years ago next year. A few months afterwards – when the winter evenings set in – I was feeling very sorry for myself then I said, ‘Celine, come on, I’ve a good job, I’m healthy, I’ve a lot more than most people’, and it just gave me a wakeup call.

There are people so much worse off than I am and I should be looking at helping them instead of feeling sorry for myself. So that’s what I did.

Of course, the GOAL Mile is about raising money to help people but there’s also a great sense of community from it. I live in a small village and we don’t have too many things that bring the whole community together.

It was a huge success the first year. I didn’t sleep the night before. I was so nervous that nobody would turn up. We went down Stephen’s Day morning to Allenwood Cross and I could not believe the turnout.

All these families, kids on the bikes, people who’d never line out for a race or anything like that, but this is for everyone. I even said to my father who’s 81, ‘You don’t have to go the whole way’, but sure he got in and got chatting to people he wouldn’t normally see, and he could have walked 10 miles that day.

It was very simple, we had refreshments after, a big pot of soup, nothing fancy, and everybody just chatted. It was brilliant. We raised about €3,000 the first year. And that was it, I was hooked. This is Christmas for me from now on.

The amount of people who came to me afterwards and said, ‘Only for that, I’d have been sitting at home on my own for Christmas.’

Last year presented a completely different challenge with Covid but we pulled it off virtually. And this year, we’ll be playing it by ear. The plan is for a mix of both, but give it a good shot.

I’m excited about it. It’s lovely to have a new family tradition, I think of mammy, she’s the reason I’m doing it and I’m honoured to be part of it. It’s such a simple idea to bring our little community together and raise a few bob for GOAL. People love that.”

Mary O’Donohue – Executive Director of Making Connections

Mary O'D Mary Donoghue Source: Mary Donoghue

Leading Making Connections’ volunteer team, especially over the last two years has been a rewarding experience for me. During this time, demand for our services has doubled and is growing all the time.

We provide befriending and wellbeing supports to empower older people to stay healthy and socially connected. A lot of the older people referred to us by HSE clinicians are experiencing loneliness, isolation, depression, chronic illness and the pandemic has taken a huge toll.

I notice that what matters to people is the personal connection: they value the chat on the doorstep as much as the meal delivery or even just getting a phone call. People tell me ‘if it wasn’t for your volunteer, my phone would never ring’.

I was struck by the response to our Spirit of Christmas campaign – launched in lockdown 2020 – so we decided to repeat it this year. It involves a team of letter writers – mainly teenagers and young adults.

We give them the name of an older person and something that person loves – maybe dogs, or books or art. Each older person gets six letters to be opened on different days that can be challenging for them. A tea light is enclosed for Christmas Day and the older person is invited by the letter writer to light it at 3 pm so they can think of each other at that time It’s all very personal and it’s about people having something to look forward to – that’s so important for all of us isn’t it?

In response to last year’s letters, people left some lovely messages on our answering machine saying things like:

These letters have made my Christmas. It was such a surprise. I couldn’t believe it.
I have the candle lighting now and I am reading and re-reading those letters. I want to write back when I’m well enough.
The letter I got was so funny. I laughed a lot. Those young people are so generous to think of others, especially to think of writing to us oldies. Please thank them from me and tell them I’m sorry I don’t have the strength in my hands to write back.

I just think Christmas can be a very difficult time for people and the Spirit of Christmas campaign is all about reaching out and making people feel supported and that someone is thinking about them not just on Christmas Day, but also into the New Year.

Ciara Dalton – a co-founder of The Hygiene Bank Ireland

Ciara Dalton Hygiene Bank Ciara Dalton

“Once we tell people about what we do, they think ‘how did that not exist before now?’. We know an awful lot of people are struggling in Ireland and we know that many people can’t afford food, so why did we think they could afford hygiene items?

The Hygiene Bank Ireland is a national charity run entirely by volunteers, that collects and distributes hygiene items to people who either can’t afford them or might not have access to them.
Over Christmas, we’re running a campaign called ‘It’s In The Bag’ – we’re aiming to put together 1000 bags so no one has to go without over Christmas. Everyone loves to pamper themselves in November and December, everyone deserves a little luxury, so we try to have one or two luxury items in the bags, whether that’s a gift set, a face mask or some makeup.

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I got involved with The Hygiene Bank Ireland as a co-founder two years ago and the most rewarding part for me has just been watching it grow. We’ve had three packing weekends in the lead up to Christmas, I was at the Dublin packing days, we rented a community centre and packed 300 bags. It’s a busy day but loads of fun. It’s a really nice way for the volunteers to meet.

We hear constantly from our community partners about the pure joy when people receive the bags, but it’s also sheer relief. Hygiene items are often the first to go when people start struggling. Our donations mean people don’t have to make the choice between buying food, heating their home or buying hygiene items this Christmas.

Being part of something that’s allowing people to not have to make those really tough choices is quite incredible.

We Act is a national campaign to celebrate Ireland’s charities and community groups. Visit WeAct.ie.

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