Friday 23 August 2019

This inspiring man (82) is set to send 250,000 shoeboxes to poor children for Christmas

At 82, John Horan doesn't take his health for granted and believes that giving back is the secret to his vitality

John Horan, a volunteer with the Shoebox Appeal, at his home in Churchtown, Dublin
John Horan, a volunteer with the Shoebox Appeal, at his home in Churchtown, Dublin

Kathy Donaghy

Doing something that fuels his passion every day is a way of life for 82-year-old John Horan. He believes that giving something back is the secret to his health and vitality, and says older people should look at what they can do to help others to help themselves.

At this time of year you are lucky to get a chance to speak to John from Churchtown in Dublin. The home he shares with his wife Jackie is floor-to-ceiling full of shoeboxes as their home turns into a makeshift warehouse.

The month of November marks the culmination of the year's work. All the shoeboxes have carefully been filled to the brim with things for children all over the world. John and Jackie are without doubt amongst Team Hope Christmas Shoebox Appeal's most industrious and generous benefactors.

Last year Team Hope delivered over 250,000 shoeboxes to children in Africa, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The boxes go to children whose families typically live on less than one euro a day and the gift from Ireland may well be the only gift they receive this Christmas.

John says he stopped counting the boxes once they wrapped the 500th one. Many have been picked up and gone to Team Hope's distribution centre. Many others are waiting to go and John says the project is a labour of love for him. And he says his motivation is to help children who have little or nothing; to see their faces on the Team Hope's campaign literature is reason enough.

To understand his enthusiasm for the campaign, John says you'd have to look to his own childhood for the answer. An orphan, he considers himself extremely lucky to have been fostered at the age of four by two sisters, Ethel and May Clarke from Dunmanway in West Cork. The sisters were not married and lived together four miles from the town of Dunmanway where Ethel worked as a teacher and May stayed at home.

John grew up with a foster brother Noel, who was fostered at the same time. He says the two had an idyllic childhood spent out in the fields in a beautiful part of the world. The boys called Ethel and May "auntie" but John says they were both mother and father to them and were the most generous people you could meet. He has no memories of before life on the farm at Inchinadreen. He was told that he was taken on the train from a home in Dublin - he doesn't know which one - and brought to Cork where Ethel and May met him and his foster brother and brought them to their new home.

While Noel was studious, John says he wasn't academic and was by his own admission a bit of a wild child. "They gave me everything. They set a good example in word and deed and that has rubbed off on me. I was a wild tearaway - I could have done anything and for years I had a bitterness in me I didn't realise. But they were so good. They were an astonishing pair," he says.

Now when John looks at pictures of children on Team Hope's literature; children who have little or nothing, he says to himself 'that could be me' and this motivates him to give back in his own way.

"If I lived for 1,000 years I couldn't do a fraction of what my aunts did for me. I was so fortunate in my life," says John.

In his working life, John did many things spending a large part of his in the motor trade as a salesman. He met his wife Jackie at a party in 1959. When John decided to give the host a hand to do the dishes, Jackie helped and the rest in history. They married in 1961 and have one son, Johnathan, who's now in his fifties and has Down Syndrome.

John describes himself as "fit" and his life as "full". If he's not walking, he can be found at Kenilworth Bowling Club in Rathmines. He often thought about getting a pedometer to track the miles he clocks up but is happy that he feels fit and healthy.

Having lived for 82 years he says he doesn't take his health for granted and doesn't "abuse" his body by eating too much. He's not a drinker nor a smoker. "I like to feel good and I like to feel well. I'm not on any medication. I wouldn't be a big eater - I eat enough food to keep hunger away. Dinner might be bacon and cabbage or chops or some fish. For breakfast if I wasn't going to get back during the day I might have a boiled egg. I might make scrambled eggs and a rasher for lunch," he says.

The business of getting shoe boxes ready for the big collection on November 10 is an all year round activity that keeps him very active. And as soon as John and Jackie have packed off the last of the shoeboxes, they start again getting ready for the next year.

Over the years they have developed networks of people who help them out. Neighbours bring things to their home. Friends of friends have got involved with everyone making up the boxes that will bring a smile to the face of a child far away. It's become a local enterprise with many hands involved in the mammoth task of filling 500 boxes.

"We are such a generous nation. Without people's generosity the appeal wouldn't work. I've never met any of the recipients of the appeal. I saw one of them on TV last year and that's motivation enough," says John.

He's a firm believer in getting involved in things that help others no matter what age you are. And he says age should never be a reason not to do something.

"If you can do something, why not do it. If there's a need there, help out. You'd have to be heartless not to be affected by the little faces on the Team Hope's brochure. I have my health and my strength - I believe I'm supposed to help people. I'm getting up off my backside and doing something. It's such a privilege to be able to do this," says John.

He recalls that when he was a teenager he was struck down with osteomyelitis, an inflammation of the bones. It left him on crutches for over a year and serves as a reminder of what it was like not to be in full health.

"I survived that storm and that motivates me too. I got a warning and I never take my health for granted," says John.

But he says he's never done anything in life that had such an impact on him as getting involved with Team Hope.

When his aunt May passed away in February 1974 and Ethel in April 1977, John says he grieved deeply and worried that he had not done enough to show them how much he cared. With over three million shoe boxes filled since he and Jackie started with the project many years ago, John says he will keep going for as long as he can. Showing he cares has become part and parcel of his daily life

His Christian faith is also a big part of his life and he believes that all anyone is asked to do is what they can do. Health and well-being he believes "starts from the neck up" and he says if your head is in the right place, the rest will follow.

"There are things I can't do now that I could do 40 years ago. But I'm so immeasurably rewarded by what I do. I never did anything that meant as much to me as the Shoebox Appeal. We're all different but this is the way I go about things and it's working," he says.

"It's not that I'm looking for a return. Jackie and I feel blessed we are both enthusiastic about this. It does enhance our lives. I've had people say 'I wouldn't be able to do that' but we all have our gifts and each to their own. Your gift could be enough to make someone very happy. There's quite a few things people can do to help others," says John.

This article is part of a series of profiles of people who are redefining later life. If you know someone who may fit the bill, email


Last year Irish charity, Team Hope delivered over 250,000 shoeboxes to children in Africa, Eastern European and the former Soviet Union.

To get involved with Team Hope's Christmas Shoebox Appeal, all you have to do is find an empty shoebox, wrap it in Christmas paper and fill it with gifts for a boy or girl aged between two and 14, attach €4 and bring it to a local drop off point before Friday, November 10.

* When considering items that are best to gift, think of the four Ws:

* Write - pen, pencil, copybook, paper, colouring book, felt pens, sharpener, eraser, solar calculator - these children have no access to batteries.

* Wash - toothbrush and toothpaste, soap (wrapped), facecloth, hairbrush, comb.

* Wear - a hat, scarf, gloves, socks or underwear.

* Wow - sunglasses, games, small Irish gift, a photo of yourself, sweets (must be in date until at least April 2018), make up, a small musical instrument, toys like a doll, a car, cuddly toy, skipping rope, yo-yo or finger puppet.

* There are 400 drop off points nationwide, including all Axa, FastFit/FirstStop branches and Toymaster stores. To find your nearest drop-off point,

* For more information about the Team Hope Christmas Shoebox Appeal, or to get involved visit

* You can follow Team Hope on Facebook at

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