Ballymena collects pre-loved coats for children who need them
A Ballymena-based community organisation has come up with a unique idea to make sure all children in the area stay dry and warm this winter.
Already scores of families have benefited from a scheme to hand out pre-loved winter coats.
Mid and East Antrim Poverty Action Group had already assisted over 500 children during the summer with a school uniform exchange scheme, but have now extended their service to the community.
Backed by Mid and East Antrim Council, the Community Advice Services group is now gathering the coats, which will be made available for redistribution to those in need.
The group's operations director Michele Campbell said the scheme is not only helping families make sure their children are well looked after, but also recycling hundreds of coats which would otherwise have ended up in landfill or left to hang unused in wardrobes.
"There's been an amazing response since we started the scheme last week," she said.
"Since November 2, we've already handed out 39 coats, as good as new, to families who would otherwise not been able to afford them.
"We've been very well supported in the initiative by our council's chief executive, Anne Donaghy, who has been a major driving force in the work we're trying to do for the community.
"The idea about school uniforms really took off and we were thinking of ways to enhance the service we're trying to provide.
"It's winter, kids grow out of coats very quickly and most of the time they're hardly used, so if other families can benefit from a winter coat your child has grown out of, we'd love to be able to put it to good use with another family who might otherwise struggle to provide for their children.
"Coats can be expensive, and this is a major help to a lot of families, plus we have the added advantage of recycling."
The Poverty Action Group was set up to co-ordinate efforts across the district under one umbrella, and Michele says the idea is working well.
She added: "We have been tasked to find ways to tackle poverty across the borough and by having everything organised by one group we can see what needs to be done to help people out and where. And we're still looking to expand the service.
"Next on the agenda is trying to provide shoes for children who need them. We'll have a fundraiser, a pub quiz and raffle in Larne Bowling Club tonight (Friday) to kick start that initiative.
"We found people are very keen to recycle school uniforms, and now winter coats, but they seem reluctant to re-use shoes.
"We've now partnered with a company who will match the money we can raise to start providing new shoes to children who need them. The service has been very well received and it's thanks to the support of the council that we're able to provide something which has become vital to many families."
Mid and East Antrim Poverty Group are taking donation of pre-loved coats, from nursery school age through to P7, at their offices in Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Larne. Coats can also be donated at local council leisure centres and credit unions.