Our Stolen Christmas Hamper

Feature photo: Gaybo – shocked by the stealing of our Christmas hamper 38 Christmases ago.

4 decades ago the story of our stolen Christmas hamper hit the headlines, it went viral in today’s terminology.

Our idea was to raffle the hamper to raise desperately needed funds for our then sports governing body.  But then, disaster struck as some nasty thieves stole it from us. But, could we rise and recover phoenix like, you bet!

The late Gay Byrne said it was the meanest Christmas deed he ever heard of. Our then governing body said we brought them into disrepute. Cynics said it was a typical stroke on our part!

Gay Byrne was the only one who was right, of course!

We were young, maybe gifted but, a little naieve back then.

It began when one of our group had a brainwave: let’s put a hamper together, sell tickets for it on Dublin’s Henry St, and raise a tidy sum from the raffle. There would be no costs as all hamper contents could be donated. Sure we couldn’t lose!

The fun began when we started to call to local shops for product donations to fill the hamper. I ended up with a few pairs of socks, gloves and some underwear! Most un-festive indeed!

Irish Blindcraft, a semi state company who employed many of our members back then,  donated a high-quality handmade basket for our low-quality hamper contents.

Christmas time in Henry St. was not to work out though. The local casual traders were unimpressed and ran us outa town! There was no space on their patch! Arnotts department store showed the Christmas spirit and gave us a spot under their canopy, but we were well hidden away.

Looking back it should not have been a surprise, but very few people wished to stop to buy our raffle tickets. Those who did, suggested we use open buckets and just take donations.

The weeks passed, and our fundraising was a disaster. It couldn’t get worse, could it? Well, it did!

I was hardly in the door of my workplace, on that December Wednesday morning, when an ashen-faced supporter, our hamper custodian, rushed in to tell me of how a thief and broken into his van in his garden and stolen our hamper.

To this day I’m not sure if I even stopped to sympathies with our shocked supporter and ask him if he was Ok? My head was spinning in another direction. Let’s share this rotten Christmas bad luck story with the media and see what happens?

I rang Pat Leahy, then producer of RTE Radio’s Listen and See, the programme “for and about the blind people”. Pat was on the case immediately. On hanging up the phone, he walked out of his office and bumped straight into Gay Byrne. Gaybo was about to go on air with his No.1 radio show and immediately agreed to spread the word.

Gay told his hundreds of thousands of listeners about the mean festive season deed on blind sports people.

Pat Leahy, and RTE radio presenter Robbie Irwin, told everyone in the RTE Radio Centre what had happened to our hamper. On air the late Larry Gogan, Ronan Collins and Mike Murphy, among others, told listeners of our sorry tale.

Donations and goodies came flooding in. Our member, Willie Britten, went in for the kill. He rang the top shops and stores and related the story as told by Gay Byrne and his colleagues earlier. More goodies and donations!

Next morning, Thursday, we had turned defeat into victory. Now we had a brand new hamper with real Christmas goodies.

By Thursday evening we were back out selling raffle tickets for the hamper, with several stores offering us attractive indoor space to sell our tickets.

The raffle went ahead that Saturday night and was a major success raising a brilliant 2000 punts. In today’s currency, we raised around 12,000 Euros.

Had we really pulled a stroke? No!

Did we bring our then governing body, into disrepute? Their Board passed a motion to say we did. Privately, most board members were impressed!

The moral: no matter how bad your ideas are, keep the faith, work hard, be honest, and you just may get that lucky break.


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