Giving The Jacket off your Back
It’s difficult to look at a screen these days without seeing images of homeless people or refugees and I regularly thank my lucky stars that we’re able to provide a home and roof over the heads of our children. Sometimes that doesn’t feel enough and although we’re able to send money now and again to various charities who are helping people in extreme poverty, jumping into a car and heading to Calais or Greece, or volunteering at the soup kitchen outside the GPO in Dublin aren’t options for us. It was therefore truly soul warming to hear about the humanitarian work Kevin and Sue Kelly and their family and friends are doing here in Carlow when they began Jacket Off Your Back. I took the opportunity to catch up with Kevin and find out more about the organisation and how we can get involved in their essential appeals.
Kevin, I’ve been following updates on your Facebook page and have an idea what you’re doing from my stream there but would love to learn more. From the beginning, what is “Jacket off Your Back” and how did the idea come about?
In August 2014 a friend of mine, Emily Deveroux from Wexford, put up a video of a women in the US who made coats that became sleeping bags at night, this I suppose set the seed in my head.
Before this we were very much involved in raising money for cancer; in July 2014 we cycled to Rome – €150k.
On a long drive to Donegal from Carlow in November 2014 I was thinking about all the clothing in homes around Ireland that we don’t use. I phoned Sue my wife and said we need to gather up all these coats. Twenty minutes later Sue called me back and said “what do you think of calling it the Jacket off Your Back” and there it began on the 9th of November 2014.
When was your first run, what did you carry and to where? How were the “gifts” received by the people?
Around the 29th of December 2014 myself and Sue decided after two months of collecting coats, that we would go to Dublin ourselves and hand out warm clothing to the people sleeping rough.
We first walked through the city centre, a little bit afraid to offer anyone anything at all. We walked down past the GPO where there were several people sleeping, some huddled up to each other to keep warm as it was -4ºC that night. We passed them all without making any contact at all. We stood at the van thinking this is not good enough so we walked back and asked them if they need any warm clothing or sleeping bags, they were absolutely delighted and took several coats from us. The first man we spoke to was in his early 50’s and spoke with half cockney half Limerick accent. He was very polite and was more interested that we helped the other people with him. The man’s name is Michael Keane aka Mick.
From then on we went to Dublin every Saturday night and walked all over the city centre with warm clothing and sleeping bags with a dedicated group of volunteers.
How does the distribution work, are there collection points that people can drop old jackets off to or do you have designated collection days? What kind of things can people give? I have old school shoes that the kids have grown out of and are a bit scuffed, are they okay?
There are less and less drop off points. At the moment they are mostly made up of schools and people collecting. We take all shoes as long as they’re not dirty or torn (grubby and scuffed are okay) we also collect a lot of other stuff all clothing, toiletries, push chairs hot water bottles and more.
We keep enough for all the people sleeping rough here in Ireland and the rest is sent to Greece, Moldova , Romania and Syria. we work with people on the ground there.
Who volunteers? Can anyone contact you to help and how often?
Anyone can help. All volunteering at the moment is in Unit 2, Strawhall Industrial Park, Athy Road, Carlow town, sorting out the shoes and clothing. People can organise collections in schools and clubs and help with delivery of the items to our Unit in Carlow.
People can also get involved by sponsoring a pallet to help us ship to Greece, Moldova and Romania. If you are a company, school, group or individual who would like to pay for a pallet yourself and have it shipped from our unit in Carlow overseas – average cost €350 – contact us for more information (details at the end).
We’ve also launched a Shoe the Children appeal, a crowd funding project on Go Fund Me that you can find here.
Our aim is to organise collections for quality clothes, sleeping bags, personal hygiene products and first aid supplies, to prepare 50,000 emergency survival packs to be ready for delivery on the ground.
How many runs have you made, do you have to pay for your ferry and travel costs or are people sponsoring you and getting involved?
We’ve been to Romania twice and Greece twice. I paid for Romania and the first one to Greece myself. The last trip to Greece was part paid by me and part by donations.
How necessary is this work? We see images on TV about the camps and long walks refugees are having to make to find safety and many of us feel helpless that we can’t do more to help them. Does Jacket off Your Back make a difference to the people and families from these war-torn countries?
We are mostly making a difference by changing attitudes towards both refugees and extreme poverty. We are only a drop in the ocean compared to the problem. 300 million children don’t know what it is like to have a pair of shoes, 60 million are refugees, 100 million people are homeless, 3 billion live on less the €1 euro per day. If our organisation can encourage other people to help then we have made a difference.
“If every person in the world, helped one other person for just one day in their lives, then poverty would be wiped out in a generation” Kevin Kelly
If you’d like to help The Jacket off Your Back in any way, please visit their Website, contact Kevin on 0868988137 or by email. For day-to-day updates and appeals visit The Jacket of Your Back Facebook Page.
All images supplied by Kevin Kelly. Here’s a little bit of the last few months: