Santa Claus Anonymous: Irish mothers' lockdown project delivers toys to hundreds

ireland
Santa Claus Anonymous: Irish Mothers' Lockdown Project Delivers Toys To Hundreds
A 'lockdown project' to deliver toys to local families has now put presents beneath the tree around Ireland.
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Sarah Mooney

Many children opening presents around the country on Christmas morning will be unaware that Santa had assistance from a Facebook group based in Birr, Co Offaly called “Santa Claus Anonymous”.

The mysteriously titled group — and the two Irish mothers behind it — are quietly responsible for completing the wish lists of hundreds of children around the country ahead of Christmas Eve this year.

What began as a small “lockdown project” to anonymously deliver toys to local families struggling amid the pandemic has now put presents beneath the tree in homes from Kerry to Dublin to Donegal.

“Honest to god, we thought when we put the page up that we'd get maybe two or three mammies contact us and we would just sort them out between ourselves... but within three days we had over 1,000 followers on Facebook,” Mary Beth O’Brien, one of the mothers behind the group said.

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“What started off as just getting a few toys for a few families completely escalated and there's over 200 children on the list at the moment.”

We were just so upset to think of all these children with no toys on Christmas day

Ms O’Brien said the project first began when she and her friend, Marie Buckley, were making their monthly donation to a local charity, The Ken Smollen Food Appeal.

“He's got over 860 families on his list... he was just talking about all the children that wouldn’t have toys this year, because he knows all these families and how bad of positions they’re in,” she said.

“Me and my friend, we're both mothers as well... we were just so upset to think of all these children with no toys on Christmas day, we just thought we’ll just do our own toy thing.”

After setting up social media pages for the Santa Claus project, the mothers watched as group members, offers of help and donations quickly poured in.

Packing and posting soaring numbers of donations quickly became a full-time job, involving both a warehouse and a mini lorry.

“There were so many people reaching out to us for help and I think the hardest part of it all was listening to their stories and the situations that most people are in at the moment,” Ms O'Brien said.

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“It kind of opened our eyes to what was going on, such a tough year for some people with Covid. Some people's Covid payments got stopped for some reason, or a lot of people said ‘last year I was the one donating to different charities and now I'm the one looking for a charity’ — it was very sad.”

A number of small businesses offered their premises as drop-off points for donations, allowing the mothers to collect hoards of new toys from all around the country.

“We got so many donations... we'd have someone contact us and be like, ‘what will I get,’ and I’d be like, oh well someone contacted me there, she has a five-year-old son who’d love [blank present],” Ms O’Brien said.

“So we were sorting out the children with what they wanted, but we gave every child something extra as well — every household got a jigsaw and a Lego and arts and craft, along with the toys that they asked for.”

Labelling, packing and posting soaring numbers of donations quickly became a full-time job, involving both a warehouse and a mini lorry lent to the project by Ms O’Brien’s father.

“I’d drop my child off at half nine for school, and I’d come straight out to the warehouse where everything is, but I could be there till half seven in the evening,” she said.

Grateful mammies

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The project kept Ms O’Brien busy as her business of 12 years, the Diva Beauty Salon in Birr, remained closed due to coronavirus restrictions.

“If I was working, there was no way I'd be able to do it because I was doing it on my own during the week because Marie lives in Cork... she was still working but she was coming up on weekends to give me a hand,” she said.

“It just completely took over my life, which I'm not complaining,” Ms O’Brien said. “It was a very rewarding thing to do... We had a lot of grateful mammies crying on the phone just to say thank you.”

Completing one family’s Christmas wish-list involved a buggy, a highchair, toys and a shop from Tesco. Another family contacted the project in the hope their five-year-old son could receive his own bed for Christmas.

The mother sent us a video... of the little boy hugging the bed

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After Ms O’Brien went to a local business in Birr to try and buy a bed at cost price, the business owner donated one to the family for free and delivered it with a mattress.

“The mother sent us a video later on after they got the bed, of the little boy hugging the bed,” Ms O’Brien said.

“We ended up buying food and clothes and shoes, you know, a bed for children — I didn't expect it to escalate like that. But to hear the positions some families were in, it’s really awful and I’ll be thinking of them all on Christmas Day... hopefully we’ve made a difference for a lot of families.

“We are thinking of how we can do it next year without having to handle everything ourselves because it’s just impossible to do that when you’re working as well... hopefully a lot more people will be in better positions next year as well.”

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