Christmas aid for local families

John McMonagle, Werner Schell and John McCrossan at the Rotary Christmas tree outside the Foyleside.  (1312JB160)
John McMonagle, Werner Schell and John McCrossan at the Rotary Christmas tree outside the Foyleside. (1312JB160)

The local Rotary Council is on a mercy mission to bring Christmas cheer to Derry families in financial difficulty.

The club, which is made up of business and professional leaders has decided that a substantial amount of the funds raised from this year’s Tree of Remembrance collection is be used to help alleviate the difficulties that many families in the North West are facing by donating Christmas hampers of food and essentials.

Londonderry Rotarians, Gavin Killen, Maurice Brennan, President, Werner Schell and John McMonagle with some of the 180 food hampers which will be distributed through local community organisations to families in the city. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 14.12.11

Londonderry Rotarians, Gavin Killen, Maurice Brennan, President, Werner Schell and John McMonagle with some of the 180 food hampers which will be distributed through local community organisations to families in the city. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com. 14.12.11

Rotary has always used the proceeds of the Tree - which is situated at the Orchard Street entrance to Foyleside shopping centre - to help local charities but this year members have been moved by many of the stories of the plight’s of Derry families.

Rotary Club President, Maurice Brennan, said: “ The current situation facing many families in the North West this year is of great concern to us all. As a result of this our Rotary Council has launched Operation Christmas Aid where we will use a substantial amount of the money raised from the Remembrance Tree to help needy families in the local area.”

Members have already been in contact with various community groups and agencies in the city in order to arrange the distribution of hampers to those most in need.

The Remembrance Tree project was the first of its kind in Northern Ireland and has allowed the local club to help the community in the North West. Mr Brennan added: “The Tree is manned by our members from 10am each morning until 8pm in the evening, every day between now and Christmas Eve but knowing that the money raised in going to help the most venerable in our community is just reward for the many hours our members spend standing in the cold and rain.”

The Rotary Club has over the past years supported the following local Charities, Salvation Army, Saint Vincent de Paul, Foyle Hospice, Foyle Womens’ Aid, Foyle Haven, The Alzheimer’s Society, Foyle Search and Rescue, Methodist Mission, ZEST and NSPCC (Foyle) to name a but a few.

The club was formed in 1922 and is made up of local professional, business and community leaders that encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise. Rotary is a non-religious, non-political and non-racial organisation that is present in over 200 countries around the globe with 1.2 million members in 32,000 clubs.

It is hoped that the success of last year’s project - when the general public generously donated a total just over £17,000 - can be built upon this festive season. In total, the local Rotarians spent over 900 hours at the tree during some of our most severe weather conditions, but they have not been put off this year and already have signed up to 1,100 hours in support of this very worthy project.

The idea of the the Tree of Remembrance is to invite persons to write a short message of remembrance onto a yellow ribbon, in recognition and memory of departed loved ones, those living abroad and unable to be with them at Christmas, family or friends in hospital or any other reason to remember someone at this time of year.

The message ribbon was then attached to a tape and gradually hoisted to the top of the Remembrance Tree, as the tapes filled up. Individuals then place a voluntary donation in a collection box.

Mr Brennan said: “Last year’s project was an excellent success and we were overwhelmed by the generous public, without forgetting also the many visitors to the city at this time of year, who also made generous donations. We were delighted to be able to give over 5,500 people the opportunity to put their message on the tree and quite often share with the Rotarians on the stand their individual heartfelt and moving stories. Many members of the general public commented to the Rotarians on how wonderful an idea the tree was. I personally feel that this was one of our most positive community projects of the year.”