Belfast Telegraph

Businessman's Jacket Off Your Back campaign will help 50,000 refugees

A businessman who spent last winter sourcing clothes for the homeless has turned his attention to making 50,000 emergency packs for refugees and migrants on Europe's borders.

Kevin Kelly's Jacket Off Your Back campaign aims to send truck-loads of supplies to Greece, Montenegro and Turkey as the winter months approach.

Operating out of a 3,000 sg ft warehouse in Carlow, the 49-year-old and his wife Sue and a team of volunteers are filling packs with a sleeping bag, coat, fleece, thermals, socks, a shirt or t-shirt, a cap, scarf and sanitary products like a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Mr Kelly, who runs a fire and flood restoration business, said the crisis that is already on Europe's borders will be compounded as hundreds of thousands more people try to flee refugee camps this winter.

"People on the move are unprepared," he said. "It's a bit like history repeating itself - it happened in the world wars and it happened during the Balkan wars of the 90s.

"People are starting to walk now from the Syrian and Turkish borders. In six or seven weeks they'll get into northern Turkey and face more turbulent waters to get to Greece and then the weather will close in over the Balkans. They will be freezing and they will die from hypothermia."

Quality clothes have been donated by the public at drop-off points around the country following a campaign which centred almost entirely on social media. It began last year in response to the growing numbers of homeless people in Dublin and other major cities before they turned their attention to the migrant and refugee crisis in Europe in July.

A team of 100 volunteers have gathered parcels and brought them to Carlow for the emergency packs to be prepared for delivery in six weeks time.

Mr Kelly, who witnessed first hand the plight of people fleeing into eastern Europe early in the summer, is planning to recce locations in northern Greece and Montenegro to drop off the supplies.

Hundreds of sleeping bags were donated by revellers as they walked out of the Electric Picnic on Monday morning.

"We waited at the entrance to give this guilt trip of 'you might save a life with that sleeping bag' to everyone," he said.

"Call it psychological warfare."

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