Help for parents struggling with cost of First Communion clothes
When a child in the Catholic Church receives their First Communion around the age of seven or eight it is a notable occasion. However, it is one that is coming with a hefty price tag for some parents.
Although it takes place at a normal Sunday service and there is no formal dress code or formal uniform expectation, Monica McClements of the Rosemount Resource Centre in Londonderry told Christian Today that some parents are spending between £300 and £500 on clothes that will be worn for just a few hours.
The problem of cost is more acute for girls, since they are expected by their peers and their families to wear the appropriate white dresses, a veil, tiara, and formal dress shoes. Boys usually wear either a full suit or dress trousers and a smart shirt.
In the current financial climate, the cost is driving some families into debt, leading McClements and Rosemount colleague, Eileen Kivlehan, to fight back.
They have opened a First Communion shop hiring the Holy Communion dresses and suits out to those who are struggling financially.
Ms Kivlehan said they decided to open the shop after a mother rang her last year upset that she could not afford the shoes, veil, hair and make-up.
"But she didn't want her daughter to feel left out and wanted her to have all the things the other girls were having," she told the Derry Journal.
Speaking to Christian Today, Ms McClements said: "Within the community we've had a few parents approach us in the centre stating they were finding it a hard struggle with children going out for First Communion - last year in particular.
"At a time of recession people don't have money to waste on new dresses and veils and tiaras and shoes worn just for a few hours on one particular day.
"We realised that there's a service there, that other people have suits and dresses hanging in wardrobes that have been worn once for a couple of hours. Others in the community can use them."
Ms McClements stressed that there was no expectation or insistence on the part of Catholic schools and chapels for children to be expensively dressed.
"But there is a precedent set that you want your child to be like everybody else's," she said.
The service uses donated dresses and suits, a nod to the past when "they were handed around between cousins three or four times".
Ms McClements also pointed out that there is no real problem with fashions or styles changing over time with these clothes "the style hasn't changed in the last 10 to 15 years really".
So far, the operation has received widespread support and is gathering momentum. An American woman who heard about the initiative on Facebook has sent over a box of dresses and a local store donated a box containing six dresses and four suits.
Ms Kivlehan confirmed in the Derry Journal that all the loans are arranged in complete confidentiality.
"The most important message we want to get out is that people shouldn't be getting themselves into debt for First Communions. Don't pay up for anything. It really is just for one day and we can help," she told the Journal.