HSE staff have been making a huge difference into the lives of Co Mayo families for 17 years, bringing a bit of Christmas magic to many homes in need.
Back in 2002, recognising the hardship that some people were facing in the local area, staff in Mayo decided that they would do something to help, and so the Bronntanas project was born.
The main goal of the scheme is to support parents who are experiencing difficulties at Christmas by providing a gift for them to give their children on Christmas morning.
Its success can be seen from the fact that gifts were given to over 450 children in the county last year.
“The idea for Bronntanas came about when clerical staff and social workers were chatting over coffee and wondering what they could do to support local families over the Christmas period. From that original concept, it was decided to set it up and organise an anonymous pool of volunteers to buy presents for individual children,” explained Teresa Quinn, who co-ordinates the project.
“There are families in our community experiencing financial strain in the lead up to Christmas. When parents should be able to relax and enjoy the festive season, there will be some who will be anxious that their children may be disappointed on Christmas morning.”
Families are identified by community services or a family can contact the scheme directly. A gift asked for by the individual child is then bought by one of the volunteers. The gift does not cost more than €30. They buy the present and then drop it off at a central point where it is then distributed to the families. The volunteer and the child they have bought for never meet.
“Under the Bronntanas appeal, each volunteer is given the initials of a child, their age, whether they are a boy or girl, and what they would like for Christmas. The suitability of the present for the particular child is more important than the actual amount spent on the present. There is a cap on the amount to be spent on gifts so that all the children are treated equally,” she said.
Volunteers are ordinary people from HSE and Tusla staff who all help to run the scheme and also from the general public. Mayo County Council are also involved, with a staff member there co-ordinating the volunteers.
“Every year we hear stories from parents who are struggling and would be unable to provide for their children during the high pressure time that Christmas has become. They are thankful for our support and it helps them rest a bit easier for Christmas morning knowing that Santa will be bringing something for their child,” she said.
“The demand for the scheme is growing year on year and the co-ordination has become harder to manage. We rely on volunteers to buy the presents and take on other duties to support the running of it. We are lucky in Mayo that senior HSE management value the scheme and support it.”
Co-ordinating the scheme is a mammoth task for Teresa and her team of helpers. The work started as soon as Halloween was over and will go on until December 20th.
“The success of this Bronntanas appeal is a great testament to the generosity and thoughtfulness of people throughout Mayo, especially during the height of the recession. Volunteers have worked very hard over the past number of years to ensure that children in Mayo and their families have the opportunity to enjoy the festive season. This very worthy cause could not continue to be so successful without the generosity of the people or without the herculean efforts of the volunteers who work so hard every year on the project. As a community we are all indebted to all of them.”
If you would like to help a child in Mayo in this way, please contact Teresa Quinn at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 087-99621152