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a lending hand

Members of the Travelling Community in Coolock have been buying trolleys of food to help the homeless this Christmas

We spoke to Keira from A Lending Hand about the ‘trolley fill challenge’.

FIVE YEARS AGO, a small community group in Coolock was set up to help out those who were feeling the pressure of Dublin’s growing homelessness crisis. This group was named ‘A Lending Hand‘, and half a decade later, they still show up weekly on Dame Street to provide meals, toiletries and sleeping bags for homeless people in Dublin. spoke to Keira Gill from A Lending Hand about the work they have been doing in recent weeks. Keira told us that demand for A Lending Hand and similar groups has grown immensely since the group began cooking meals five years ago. Keira told us, “When we first started out, there were about 80 people there. Just last week, there was probably over 200.”

In July 2017, A Lending Hand received national attention after photos of one of their volunteers went viral on Reddit. That volunteer was retired Ballyfermot man Brian Birkett who spends his Mondays making 50 packages of chicken curry, rice and chips for the group to hand out on Dame Street. 

Eventually, A Lending Hand found that they were being contacted by families across Coolock who were struggling to put food on the table, so they extended their services to families, and they now deliver food packages to those in the community who need a bit of help. A Lending Hand also began to work in association with other groups like North Dublin Bay and Coolock Freebies For Homeless and Families in Need

In 2017, Keira told us, “We cook every Monday night from our homes and make sandwiches, collect clothes, toiletries and sleeping bags. It all comes out of our own pockets as we are not registered. We are not allowed to take cash donations, only donations of food.” 

PastedImage-86248 Some of the food that the group provide on a Monday night on Dame Street. A Lending Hand / Facebook A Lending Hand / Facebook / Facebook

So, because A Lending Hand are unable to take cash donations, sometimes they turn to the public for donations of food.

We all know that this is a difficult time of year for many people. For those with homes and children to look after, there’s increased pressure because of Christmas, as well as higher electricity and heating bills than the rest of the year, which makes things tougher. For those without homes, the streets become an even more dangerous place to sleep. This means that volunteer groups like A Lending Hand have a lot more work to do than usual.

Luckily, the public are coming through from them. A Lending Hand have been reporting on Facebook that they’re receiving an overwhelming amount of help from Coolock’s Traveller Community in particular. This December, a new Facebook challenge has been started, called the ‘Trolley Fill Challenge’. Keira told me that the challenge came to her attention on Sunday night, and after she spoke about it to one of her friends who’s a Traveller, he told her, “We’ll jump on board.”

Since then, A Lending Hand have been sharing photos and videos of all of the support they’ve received from Travellers in Coolock. The donations have been pouring in since Monday, and have helped Keira to put together at least eleven food packages for local families already. 

47487797_374701633265907_7985728333784547328_n James Patrick Ward delivering his contribution from the Trolley Fill Challenge to Keira this afternoon. A Lending Hand / Facebook A Lending Hand / Facebook / Facebook

A Lending Hand have been expressing their gratitude on Facebook all week.

Thanks so much to all the Travelling Community who blew us away this week with all their donations for our families and homeless people, they were chuffed tonight with all the goodies and treats, and also the families who got food hampers today, you really made a difference to people who need it the most.
Coolock outdoing themselves again! The response is amazing. Please keep sharing and show people what the real Travelling Community is all about – helping each other, altogether as human beings. [...] From all of us here at A Lending Hand, Keira and the Monday crew. Bringing humanity back and breaking stigmas as we do it. 

The group then shared photos of some of the food they were able to distribute thanks to the donations earlier this week. 

PastedImage-50159 A Lending Hand / Facebook A Lending Hand / Facebook / Facebook

You can say what you like about the Travelling Community, but in Coolock, we stick together and work as a community. 

PastedImage-8652 A Lending Hand / Facebook A Lending Hand / Facebook / Facebook

PastedImage-41691 A Lending Hand / Facebook A Lending Hand / Facebook / Facebook

There were many other donations made to A Lending Hand, from families who chose not to be named. Keira told us at that the Trolley Fill Challenge isn’t just limited to Coolock, but has been shared on Facebook from people in Ireland everywhere from Ballymun and Blanchardstown to Cork and Limerick. 

When we spoke to Keira Gill, she told us that groups like A Lending Hand receive so much help from the Travelling Community behind the scenes, and that they regularly donate to food banks and women’s refuge centres in the area. During a time when people are making so many negative comments in the media about the Travelling Community in Ireland, Keira told us it’s important to acknowledge the work they do, and “show Travellers in a positive light.” 

The Trolley Fill Challenge isn’t the only way that A Lending Hand and other groups in north Dublin have been receiving help from the public this winter.

Dan O’Brien’s Butchers in Northside Shopping Centre will be putting a shopping trolley in their store from Thursday to Saturday this week, for customers to fill with non perishable donations.

A Lending Hand have also been accepting donations of backpacks full of supplies for the homeless, which they’ll hand out during their 3 Weeks of Christmas Cheer (which begins on Monday). Earlier this week they shared photos of the donations they received from Our Lady of Good Council in Killiney. 

PastedImage-76069 A Lending Hand / Facebook A Lending Hand / Facebook / Facebook

So far, there has been huge demand for the food donated from the Trolley Fill Challenge, and further donations are welcome, especially when the 3 Weeks of Christmas Cheer begin. Over the course of these three weeks, A Lending Hand will organise Christmas parties, dinner, and haircuts, etc. for the people who avail of their services. On the 16th of December, they’re running a party for children in emergency accommodation. 

If you want to get in touch with A Lending Hand to offer support, you can contact them on Facebook. They are not currently looking for new volunteers, but welcome all support and donations of food, sleeping bags and toiletries.

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