Over 400 coats given away in ‘Jacket Potato’ initiative
As the cost of living crisis deepens across the country during the coldest months of the year, churches are increasingly to the fore as they try to find ways of supporting their local communities and those who are most in need.
Heating bills are a particular worry for many people, after soaring energy prices put the cost of keeping warm beyond their means.
How can churches help? There are several initiatives taking place, and one which demonstrated the level of need has just taken place in Aberdeen.
The ‘Jacket Potato’ initiative at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Carden Place offered people the opportunity to pick up a coat and enjoy a free baked potato and hot drink provided by the congregation. The Rector, the Rev Canon Terry Taggart, reported last week that call for donations had prompted a tremendous response, with over 400 coats handed in to the church ahead of Saturday’s event.
On Friday night, Canon Terry wondered if many people would turn up the next day. The desire of the community to help was obvious, but would those in need come forward?
He need not have worried. By 9.15am, a queue of fifty people had formed outside St Mary’s ahead of the doors opening at 10am. Within three hours, everything had gone – all coats, and every last hat, scarf and glove. The response was astonishing.
“It was manic,” said Canon Terry after getting his breath back. “I had doubts in my mind about whether we had managed to reach out as far as we did but a combination of social media, the local newspaper and sharing the details with other charities such as Aberdeen Cyrenians and the Salvation Army really got the word out there.
“We had a team of about 15 people from the congregation there, some in the nave, some in the hall, and some in the kitchen. As well as giving away coats, we served over 150 hot baked potatoes with beans, butter and cheese, along with cups of tea and coffee.
“Everyone on the team was told: ‘Don’t leave your own coat in the wrong place or you will never see it again!’
“But while we are pleased that the event was worthwhile, we can’t escape the sadness around this being necessary. We’re trying to help people through the hardest winter that many of us will have ever experienced.”
Giving away coats was based on an original idea from Canon Terry’s wife Samantha, and the name ‘Jacket Potato’ was suggested by the Rev Roger Dyer, Assistant Priest at St Mary’s. When the plan was first mentioned back in October, there was a flurry of coats handed in by members of the congregation at St Mary’s. When details were shared beyond the church, the initiative really took off.
“We had two drop-off slots every week,” said Canon Terry, “but I was coming into church and finding that there were bags of stuff being left at the door.
“I’d say 99 per cent of coats we received were top quality, and what seemed to appeal was that people wanted their coats to be given away for free. Even the cost of buying a coat in a charity shop will be too much for those who are in greatest need. Giving them away for free helped those people.
“We also received a couple of smart suits, which we passed on to King’s Community Church who provide clothing for people why are going to job interviews but don’t have anything appropriate to wear.”
Many of those who attended said that they hoped the church would do the same again next year, and Canon Terry says that ideas about what more could be done are already being considered, such as how to offer more coats for children.
“We’ll see what we can do,” he said. “The team feels deeply privileged to be part of this effort and we would like to do it again. We didn’t want people to feel they were being offered charity. We wanted it to be a gift to the people of Aberdeen, from the people of Aberdeen.”