Jonathan Irwin, who is to step down as head of the Jack and Jill Foundation, says it has turned Lego bricks into a new currency to fund home nursing care for sick children.
Courier service DPD Ireland, Topaz, and Jack and Jill charity shops have all set up Lego collection points.
Every €16 raised through the Lego appeal provides an hour of home nursing care for a child with a severe brain injury.
Mr Irwin said the charity was “almost drowned” in Lego donations but is anxious to get even more to build a national and local bank of home nursing hours. It wants people to search the attic and look under the bed for unwanted, loose Lego. No instructions or boxes are needed.
Mr Irwin said he and wife Mary Ann O’Brien took their son Jack home to die in February 1996. He lived for 22 months.
Their son had suffered a catastrophic event in the hospital that starved his brain of oxygen and left him blind, deaf, and unable to swallow.
Mr Irwin, 75, recalled that his wife had just established Lily O’Brien’s, one of Ireland’s leading chocolate manufacturers, in Newbridge, Co Kildare, and had employed 40 people.
“A gorgeous lady came off the packing line in Lily’s and said she was a nurse before she got married,” said Mr Irwin during an interview on RTÉ radio yesterday.
— The Jack & Jill Children's Foundation (@JackandJillCF) December 13, 2016
The woman asked to meet Jack and, together with other local women, ensured that Jack was nursed around the clock.
Mr Irwin and his wife had five children — three boys and two girls. Another boy, John, was stillborn.
When Jack died, they swore that no other family in Ireland in a similar situation would be left on their own.
They founded the Jack and Jill charity in 1997. The foundation now has 12 liaison nurses and is involved with 289 families. Since it was established, it has looked after 2,200 families.
Mr Irwin said Jack and Jill must raise €3.5m a year. Since it was founded, it has raised over €35m, with less than €7m coming from the HSE. Raising funds against the backdrop of charity scandals has been difficult, but Mr Irwin said it is only right that people know where every donation goes.
He has been married twice. He had four children with his first wife, Mikaela. Sam, their youngest child, died tragically from an accidental fall in Portugal in 2000.
Mr Irwin, a former bloodstock agent, stud owner, and publisher of a popular thoroughbred publication, had spent 20 years at the helm of Jack and Jill.
He credits the Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa in West Cork for giving parents a break from minding their sick child, or the gift of time as he calls it.
Mr Irwin will take on the voluntary role of chairman of the charity when he hands it over to his successor, Hugo Jellett.
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