Meet the Northern Ireland mum who raised £23k to ensure no child was left without a Christmas gift
One of Northern Ireland's top 'mumpreneurs' has been blown away by the public's generosity after raising £23,000 in just a week as part of a children's Christmas present appeal.
Caroline O'Neill (36), who owns DIGG Childrenswear in Dungannon, put out a plea last week to the 10,000 followers on her Instagram page to help her collect gifts for Cash for Kids.
The mother-of-three, who had her youngest child Tess - a sister for Pearse (5) and Darragh (3) - just four weeks ago, was astounded by the response to her efforts to help ensure no child in Northern Ireland is left without a gift this Christmas.
She said: "For as long as DIGG Childrenswear have been open we have always taken part in the Mission Christmas Cash For Kids appeal every year. But since I had my little daughter on November 19 I hadn't really been pushing it or promoting it on social media.
"Last week I was in doing wages and checking up on things and I noticed that the Mission Christmas box we had in the shop was empty. So I turned to my social media accounts just to let people know that I was off having a baby and to encourage my followers to please drop in a gift for this really important cause.
"I know that a lot of people are short on time over the busy festive season, so I set up a fundraising link for people to donate and said I would then use it to buy gifts on their behalf.
"I thought that if I could raise maybe £500 this way I could run in to town and buy some gifts on people's behalf for the children.
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"I just thought it would help make a difference to some children who otherwise might not get a gift this Christmas.
"With three children of my own the thought of this just breaks my heart."
Caroline pulled in all her contacts and favours and got bloggers and influencers across Northern Ireland to help her, allocating them a budget to buy presents for children in their towns and cities, asking them to support local retailers as they purchased.
"The response from my customers and online followers has been completely overwhelming," she added.
"In just three days we managed to raise £20,000 and the overall total after one week was £23,000.
"In addition to this, thousands of gifts have also been donated. It was a lot more than the £500 I had first envisaged we would raise. It was amazing.
"I knew it would take more than just me to purchase the amount of presents that this mind-blowing amount of money would be able to get.
"I then reached out to some of the social influencers and bloggers across Northern Ireland who had shared my posts asking people to donate.
"I spoke to Cash for Kids and they said the age groups they were most lacking gifts for was birth to 18 months and teenagers aged from 14 to 18 years so these were the ages we concentrated on.
"In addition to buying as many gifts as possible, we also wanted to spend the money in towns across the province and support local retailers.
"We have purchased presents in a wide range of towns and cities including Ballymena, Armagh, Portadown, Magherafelt, Omagh, Lisburn, Saintfield, Downpatrick, Dungannon, Cookstown, Tyrone and Belfast.
"I cannot even begin to describe the support we have received over the last number of days from the business community right across Northern Ireland who very kindly offered us great discounts and even provided additional gifts, for which I am hugely grateful."
Caroline said she is so grateful to the team of social influencers and businesses who gave up their time to help make sure children have a present to open on Christmas morning.
She is very proud of what everyone achieved, finding it difficult not to get emotional as she saw the warehouse packed full of toys ready for delivery.
"Due to the volume of gifts we had to purchase I secured a warehouse to store everything this week before transferring it all to Cash for Kids for the team to begin the mammoth task of sending out to children across Northern Ireland," she added.
"When I looked out across the floor before they were packed into the lorry, I just thought 'look what we did, this is brilliant'. To see it all there, and the lorry just absolutely jammed with presents, it was so impactful. It is just unreal. I am proud that DIGG Childrenswear was able to do this.
"It was an emotional task. I've just had a baby, if I started crying I probably wouldn't stop. So I said to myself that I'm not going to be sad, I'm going to be happy that we are able to help so many people.
"Because sadness doesn't help me be productive.
"Yes, it is a sad situation, but I am so happy that we were able to help so many people.
"I am so proud of the kindness of the people across Northern Ireland, who have come together to help make a difference to so many children this Christmas."