Cookstown sleep-out to fund sleeping bags for homeless

A KILDRESS woman who set up a group to help the homeless almost two years ago is holding a sleep-out with the aim of raising enough money to buy at least 500 sleeping bags.
Sharon Cassidy, a mother of five boys aged between 3-14 years, had originally intended to stage the event in March, but the Covid-19 pandemic meant it had to be postponed.
Instead it will be held next Saturday, August 1, and the following Saturday, August 8.
Around 30 people are expected to bed down outside the Courthouse on the main street in Cookstown for 18 hours on both nights.
The proceeds will fund high-quality, waterproof sleeping bags which will be shared between two charities in Northern Ireland – Newry Helping the Homeless and Helping Hands Belfast as well as Feed Our Homeless and Feed the People, both in Dublin.
Sharon started the Help the Homeless group in November 2018, motivated by the desire to help those less fortunate than herself.
She said, “I had been following a few pages online and they were always asking for donations of food and clothes. So I decided I would gather up some from friends and family.”
What she “gathered up” amounted to 100 bin bags full of clothes which she delivered personally.
Since then the group has grown “enormously” and she has organised a further three collections and made many good friends along the way.
The last collection in December 2019 saw five 20ft containers filled with clothes and food heading off to help those living in poverty.
At the same time, she and volunteers also raised £5,000 through a GoFundMe page with which she was able to buy sleeping bags and dry food items.
“I had collection points in places like Dungannon, Cookstown, Ardboe, Coalisland, Loughmacrory etc and primary schools also collected items,” she said. “I was also invited to two charity events – so that’s how it got so big then.”
It’s also very much a family effort, with Sharon’s husband, children and other relatives all doing their bit and, at collection times, there are items piled high in practically every room of the house.
She said, “The charities in Dublin and Newry help up to 80 to 90 families living in poverty.
“A lot of people in Dublin were put in accommodation due to Covid but there are still around 100 homeless people on the streets there.”
Sharon has thanked everyone for their support, including Omagh wholesale kitchens and bathroom company BGI NI which is sourcing the sleeping bags and paying transport costs.
Anyone wishing to donate or take part in the sleep-out can do so through the GoFundMe link on the Help the Homeless Facebook page or contact her via Facebook Messenger.
A street collection is also being held on both of the sleep-out days.
Independent Councillor Dan Kerr, who is taking part in the sleep-out, appealed to the public to support the initiative.
“Over this last number of months helping communities out, I have witnessed much underlying poverty with the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

“Homelessness is an extension of poverty and we must use every avenue to expose it and urge support from the public to help combat it.”

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