WHEN friends Chris and Denis Mulcahy and Ursula Guiney sat together one night in November, 1991, to chat through Denis’s idea of setting up something where “Glanmire people would help Glanmire people”, they could never have foreseen that, 30 years later, their initiative would still be going strong.
“It was towards the end of the recession in Ireland and people were struggling,” explains Ursula.
“We decided to organise a Toy Mass and appeal to the families of Glanmire to bring along a new toy to place beneath the Christmas tree during the offertory procession”, she explains.
“We had no definite idea of what we would do with the toys once we received them, but it sounded like a good start, so we approached the local priest, Fr Seán Burke, who was so supportive from the get go.”
Another friend said she had contacted the local St Vincent de Paul office and that they had agreed to distribute the toy/gifts to local families in need.
“Our association with St Vincent de Paul has continued to this day and, after the local families have been looked after, we donate any surplus toys to other SVP offices in the northside of Cork city,” says Ursula.
“In a lot of cases, these toys are given as Santa gifts so we decided from the early days that no one should be giving their child a second-hand toy from Santa.”
In late 98/99, the then local priest Fr Liam O’Driscoll encouraged the group to make the Glanmire Toy Drive even bigger. There was still the same core of volunteers working it, with many more coming on board to help.
So, the St Joseph’s Junior group joined their ranks to sing at the toy mass and became an integral part of the event each year.
Then the local pre-school, The Toddle Inn, made it part of their annual calendar and committed to bringing their children, dressed as angels and shepherds, to play their part too.
“The Toy Mass became such a huge event in Glanmire. It was always a packed church and the buzz and the noise level was incredible,” said Ursula.
“Everyone has so many happy memories of the kindness and the joy associated with that night. It was the start of our Christmas celebrations.
“When all the toys were collected, they were sorted by age and gender, by the volunteers in the Parish centre. The St Vincent de Paul group would provide us with a list of the types of presents they needed. So many for a boy/girl under 5 or 6, that sort of thing.
But never once in our 30 years running have we ever known the name of a recipient,” insists Ursula.
COVID CHANGED THINGS
Then Covid hit, the church was closed, there was no choir, and they were momentarily stumped.
Ursula said: “Ger Moloney, who runs the Mums of Glanmire on social media, approached us and asked what we were going to do.
“We felt we couldn’t turn our back on these families, even though the idea of a Toy Mass was impossible.
“The need seemed to be worse now for families as so many were out of work due to Covid.
“We decided on a drive-by idea for people to drop off toys and Ger advertised it on the Mums of Glanmire social media pages and the Glanmire Notice Board.
“We were amazed at the generosity of the local people. We actually collected more gifts last year for families.”
As the Toy Mass cannot happen this year either, the volunteers will be outside the Credit Union in Glanmire from 3pm to 4pm on Sunday, November 28 for those who wish to donate.
“You don’t even have to get out of the car,” assures Ursula. “Just drive up to the volunteers, if you wish, and they will take the toy from you. All we ask is that they put the toy in a black bag or something, just for Covid sake.
LENDING A HAND
Ursula has two great little helpers this year.
“I will have two little helpers with me again this year, my grandchildren Sarah (12) and Matthew Whittaker (9). They love helping out and the joy of giving is the best lesson you can give any child!”
The core gang of volunteers has been there from the start, although sadly Denis passed away in 2005. However, there are so many others who give their time freely each year, stewarding, cleaning the presents, sorting them by age/gender, manning the car park, etc.
For some families, the toys that are donated are the toys that are opened on Christmas morning, so how could they turn their back on them?
“For us volunteers, the satisfaction and joy of having all the toys packed up, bagged and labelled, ready for collection by St Vincent de Paul, is nearly better than Christmas Day itself.”
While the current unpredictability means no Toy Mass again this year, the drive and initiative of the Glanmire community has not been dampened.
Every year, the 4th class of St Joseph’s primary school, under their teacher Miss Baldwin, ran a cake sale, the proceeds of which are donated to the Toy Mass. Sometimes this figure could be as much as €2,500.
Last year, because no cake sale was possible, the headmaster Mr Padraig Bracken launched a Toy Appeal, asking each child to bring €2 to school, and they raised €1,300 which was converted into vouchers for Penneys, Dunnes, Glanmire ShopLocal, and a great present for teens.
SUPPORT IS GREAT
Thirty years since its inception, the Glanmire Toy Appeal is 100% a team effort from the community to the local priests to St Vincent de Paul and the volunteers who drive it.
“Nobody has ever refused us help,” says Ursula.
“For any families who need a helping hand this year, don’t hesitate to contact Fr John Newman in Glanmire. Please reach out. He will never reveal names to us but we guarantee to get toys to them.”
For those who wish to donate a toy, volunteers in fancy dress will be outside the Glanmire Credit Union on Sunday, November 28 from 3-4pm.
You can also drop off your gifts to the U Party card shop (opposite Supervalu) and the Credit Union.