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The mums and grans ensuring Dundee’s kids have warm jackets and shoes with clothing charity Togs

Mum-of-two and retired police officer Pauline MacDougall leads a team of volunteers distributing good quality, preloved clothes to families who need them. reports.
Cheryl Peebles
Togs chair Pauline MacDougall. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.
Togs chair Pauline MacDougall. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

A little girl was going to school with holes in her shoes.

As soon as Pauline MacDougall and her colleagues heard they sent new footwear to her teacher.

The girl, at a Dundee primary school, is among more than 1,400 city kids to receive warm and functional clothing from Togs last year.

An army of volunteers at the charity make up bespoke parcels for children who might otherwise have no warm jacket for winter or only ill-fitting or worn-out shoes.

They are mums, grans and people who work with children, including nurses and teachers.

Some of the volunteers at Togs on Wednesday (from left) Becca Graham, Karen Lees, chair Pauline MacDougall, Anne Hauzar and Erin Spence. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

And they have one thing in common. A desire to see no child without warm, good-quality clothing which they are not ashamed to wear.

As she put together yet another package for a Dundee family, mum-of-two Karen Lees, 61, said: “This is so rewarding. You are helping kids that – some of them – have absolutely nothing. It’s unbelievable the poverty in Dundee.”

The charity was set up in 2015 by Jordan Butler, a single mum and arts educator.

Jordan Butler. Image: Alan Richardson/Pix AR.

She wanted to meet the growing level of need she saw among local families and knew that there were plenty of people keen to help by donating stuff their children had outgrown. She also wanted to ensure that good quality clothing could be given a second life and didn’t end up in landfill.

Although no longer involved, Jordan remains a supporter.

Retired police officer Pauline is now the charity’s chair and has been volunteering for five years.

How Togs clothes Dundee kids

It’s children like that little girl with the holes in her shoes that inspire her, Karen and the rest of the Togs team, who are mostly women but include a couple of men.

Requests for help are usually made by professionals working with children who see a family is in need – in this case the girl’s teacher.

Usually there’s a two-week turnaround from referral to dispatch, but this was treated as emergency and dealt with in hours.

Pauline looks through some of the winter coats donated. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

Pauline said: “As soon as we saw that referral we got it out and told them they could come in and pick it up now.”

But the fact that the teacher did not mark that request as urgent also makes Karen fear that poverty is so widespread we are growing accustomed to it. Indeed, demand for Togs’ help is increasing by 20% each year.

Pauline said: “We feel that people are not seeing it for what it is because we are becoming blind to kids turning up [for school] without proper clothes and shoes.”

Another recent recipient was a 16-year-old girl who was homeless.

Not only clothes – bedding, prams, even suitcases

“She literally had what she was standing up in,” Pauline said. “We were able to give her clothes but we also gave her bedding as well – a duvet and a blanket – because she was sofa surfing.”

And they helped ensure one wee boy could enjoy a magical experience.

“He’d won a competition to go on a holiday but didn’t have clothes for a hot climate,” explained Pauline. So a bag full of shorts, t-shirts and other holiday essentials was packed. “We even had a suitcase for him as well because someone had donated a load of clothes in a suitcase!”

Karen added: “He wrote us a letter when he came back and it was so nice to see.”

Karen Lees looks for suitable items for a bag she is packing. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

Parents and children often write letters of thanks to Togs and Karen said: “You are crying when you see them. Some of them are overwhelmed.

“Occasionally people come in to collect with their health visitor and I’ve seen them crying.”

For many of those involved, it’s their own kids that inspire them.

Pauline, whose daughters, Katie, 20, and Emily, 18, also help Togs, said: “I know how hard it was when my children were little; they grow out of their clothes so quickly.

“My pram was second-hand from my sister, but if you don’t have that family connection it’s difficult.

Children’s dignity is vital

“Every parent knows what it’s like when you buy a pair of shoes for your child and then a week later they’re scuffed or they are growing out of them.

“People are thinking what do I need to give up to buy the new shoes or the new coat.”

Dignity for children is also a big motivator for her.

“Children want to fit in with other children at school,” she said.

And so volunteers think carefully about what each child or teenager referred would like, based on their age, gender and any information provided about them.

“We lovingly put together a package we think our own children would want,” said Pauline.

Volunteer Linda Arnot sorts out some of the donations. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

“If it’s a wee child who likes Minecraft and we have a Minecraft t-shirt and a Minecraft book we put these things in.

“If we can’t find all the bits you do feel quite sad.”

Grandmother Anne Hauzar, 74, is delighted when she is able to provide packages she knows kids will be happy with.

She worked for many years with Save the Children in Africa, and said she sees communities pull together in to help each other in Dundee like they did there.

She said: “What I’ve seen in Egypt, it’s the same thing that happens here, groups working together to help children in need.

“I’m so happy that the parents we help have been able to meet the needs of their children.”

Dundee University child nursing students Becca Graham and Erin Spence, both 18, were in for the day helping out and created a package for a family with three children.

Becca said: “It’s just amazing to see the amount of clothes people have donated and how good the bags are they [Togs] give out.”

How to help Togs

Clothes and equipment, including prams, cots and other baby stuff, can be donated to Togs at its base in Showcase The Street in Manhattan Works on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday between 9.30am and 12.30pm.

Shout outs for clothing for specific age groups are often made on the charity’s Facebook page, where there is also a link to its Amazon wish list, and cash donations can be made via PayPal.

Until March 31 funds are being raised for new coats by the sale of raffle tickets for an overnight stay, dinner and breakfast for two people donated by Taypark House.

The charity is also always keen to recruit new volunteers.

Referrals for help can be made by those working with families including healthcare professionals, teachers and social workers.