“I had tears in my eyes looking at them. They were shopping with their mother and father. We gave them all the appraisals and they twirled around, and they skipped out of the Family Resource Centre happy.”
Louise Smyth, a family support worker at Ballymun Child and Family Resource Centre, is working at the centre's first ever communion pop-up shop where children can get their dress or suit for free, or for a donation.
Over the past few weeks, staff and volunteers have been busy taking in communion clothes - some new, some pre-loved – merchandising them, and helping children pick their favourite dress or suit on the shop floor.
At a time when the average Irish family spends €845 on their child’s communion day, the team behind the project were keen to mitigate the expense of the outfits for struggling families.
Already, some 20 children have already skipped out of the Ballymun shop, proudly holding their new outfit in their hand.
“We knew there was a need," explained Louise. "We’ve noticed that since Christmas and last year, it doesn’t matter if it’s a one working parent family or a two working family, people are struggling big time, and communion is the biggest expense. People will go out and get themselves into debt with loans.”
“One little boy, he was beaut, he felt he was a million dollars in his suit. All the mothers cannot thank us enough. They’re literally hugging us, there’s a really good feeling about it.”
“It’s not just our community that’s coming to the shop, we had someone with three kids who travelled from town to get here.”
“We really want to try and reach as many more people as we can.”
The shop will reopen again on March 20 and March 23. Dublin menswear shop Collar and Cuff have donated nearly 40 pairs of brand new shoes; while a local seamstress has offered up her services to alter the donated goods; and a local dry cleaners is also offering its services. While families have been donating clothes, shoes, rosary beads and prayer books.
“It’s an amazing feeling [to be helping],” explains Louise. “I have kids myself, and I think back to 25 years ago when I was handed a second-hand dress for my daughter’s Communion Day, I thought this is amazing’.”
“Even today we got a designer suit in, you’re talking the best names. Instead of putting the suit and dress in wardrobe for a few years, we’re saying to people, why not donate it.”
She added: “Even though it’s a free service, there’s a donation box outside, and we say to people ‘noone knows what you’re putting in’. We did get donations from parents already, and that money is going towards the courses at our centre.”