Letterkenny Babies to the rescue

Louise Flanagan and Edel McElhinney.

Louise Flanagan and Edel McElhinney.

EARLIER this week a young mother in Donegal who was struggling with depression and financial problems turned to social media for help.

She was on the verge of eviction from her home, had been abandoned by her partner and was able only to feed her two children and not herself.
In a post to the Letterkenny Babies Facebook page, the desperate mother said she did not know where to turn. Within minutes, the page’s members, in their dozens, began to respond with offers of support.
“Since then she’s received an overwhelming amount of support from members, bags of coal, clothes, vouchers, moral support and practical advice,” said Louise Flanagan, who founded the Letterkenny Babies page on Facebook just over two years ago.
This story, however, is just one in the much bigger picture of how mothers, and fathers, across Donegal are coming together to support each other thanks to the Letterkenny Babies page.
Mother to Lucy (3) and Evan (10 months), Letterkenny teacher Louise Flanagan originally set up the page simply as a means of connecting with a small number of other mothers locally.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Ms Flanagan said she could never have envisaged how successful the page would become.
“I called it ‘Letterkenny Babies’ as I didn’t imagine it would ever attract the attention of anyone beyond the town limits. I did consider changing the name recently, but people are familiar with the page as it is now and as long as they know that it’s a page for everyone to use, near and far, it doesn’t really matter what it’s called.”
Soon after the page began to gain popularity she realised that there was a real need locally for a page like it. In fact, with close to 7,000 members, the success of the page led Ms Flanagan to reach out to other to help her cope with its administration.
“I recruited my sister, Julie Murphy, and best friends Brid Dunn and Lisa Blyth to help me manage the inbox. The page is active 365 days a year with anything up to 30 messages being received each day, and we all have small kids, so I knew I needed more help.
“I decided to ask Edel McElhinney, mummy to Oisín (2) age 2 and Cillian (almost 4), to help out as I’d seen her comment on lots of posts and knew she had an interest in the page. She has been an absolute godsend and powers through the inbox, scheduling more messages than the rest of us put together.”
Some of the highlights of the past two years include the Letterkenny Babies Car Boot Sale last September which raised more than €700 for Donegal Hospice in memory of Kathleen Ruddy.
More recently, the team organised another successful fund-raising event, and in December held a Tots Christmas Jumper party in the Community Centre that raised €1300 for The Caolan Melaugh Fund and Bumbleance. 
Commenting specifically on Monday’s post from the young mother, Ms Flanagan stated: “The kindness and generosity demonstrated on the page is gobsmacking. So many people commented publicly on the post offering help, and many more messaged in privately with all sorts of generous offers. 
“We had a few similar posts in the lead up to Christmas with local parents messaging in for a bit of help with toys or anything at all to ease the pressure. And again, page members came out in force, offering toys, vouchers, money and even turkey and ham to help other local families. It really is heart warming. As well as acts of financial generosity, page members are so supportive and helpful to one another.
“Because we are not a charity, we can’t really get involved in the process. The page acts as a platform where people can offer gestures of goodwill to other local families. But we get follow up messages of thanks from people who have gratefully received help, so we know the ‘system’ works.”
“We always encourage members to seek professional advice, particularly with medical queries and diagnosis, but very often, mums just want to hear the viewpoint of someone who has ‘been there’. There is also great advice and information shared on all sorts of pregnancy and parenting issues and local businesses also run competitions on the page.” 
Ms Flanagan stressed that one of the most important aspects of the page is the confidentiality with which all submissions are handled.
“Although the page can be publicly viewed, private messages sent to the page are strictly confidential and shared anonymously on the page.”
With thousands of people now accessing the site and help and support being provided, Ms Flanagan said she is very proud of how the page has evolved and the contributions of its many members.
She concluded: “Our plans for the future are to keep on sharing helpful information for local parents. We will definitely organise future fundraisers and meets ups in ‘real life’ to enable our members to get together and allow their kids to play and have some fun. That’s what it’s all about!”

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