A pure heart: Lucinda gives up birthday presents to donate to Vinnies
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A pure heart: Lucinda gives up birthday presents to donate to Vinnies

In an era of Instagram-ready birthday parties for children where parents are prepared to pay thousands for an event and children are showered with presents, Belconnen girl Lucinda McGarrigan is a welcome exception to the rule.

The nine-year-old with the sweet smile has also proved to be pure of heart, choosing for three of her last four birthdays to ask her friends attending her party not to bring presents for her but instead to make a donation to St Vincent de Paul.

Her motivation? Simply, "to help people''.

Lucinda McGarrigan, nine, (right) with her sister Eleanor, seven. Lucinda's next plan is to volunteer for Vinnies.

Lucinda McGarrigan, nine, (right) with her sister Eleanor, seven. Lucinda's next plan is to volunteer for Vinnies.Credit:Jamila Toderas

Her mother Cressida said the notion of asking for donations to charity rather than presents came up when Lucinda was turning just six and having a joint birthday party. She didn't want twice as many presents, so decided to ask for donations. She went back to a normal party when she turned seven.

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But she decided for her eighth, and her most recent, ninth, birthdays, that it felt better to give rather than receive.

Cressida said it was entirely her daughter's decision. Her family still give her presents; just not her friends coming to the party.

Nine-year-old Lucinda McGarrigan has learnt it is better to give than receive.

Nine-year-old Lucinda McGarrigan has learnt it is better to give than receive.Credit:Jamila Toderas

They would put on the birthday invitation that Lucinda would prefer not to receive a present and could they please make a donation to Vinnies instead, with the family "bumping the tally up to the nearest hundred''. The year four student at Weetangera Primary donated $200 this year and usually gives $200 to $250.

"Some of the kids say, 'Why don't you just take the money and spend it?'. But, no, that's not the point, really,'' Cressida said, with a laugh.

"Lucy is a pretty lucky girl. She's a middle-class kid. She has more than enough stuff.''

Cressida said they chose St Vincent de Paul as their charity because it was one of the few where they could go in and discuss a donation, rather than just do it online. Vinnies talked over with Lucinda how she would like the money used and, after hearing about it, settled on a program supporting young carers.

"I think Lucinda was a bit surprised to hear there were children as young as her who were full-time carers, which is quite an amazing thing,'' Cressida said.

"Lucinda is a regular kid. She still gets in trouble when she doesn't do her homework. She's not a saint.  This is something any kid can do but not every kid does, and it is nice to acknowledge that she is doing it.

Lucinda talked with Vinnies and they agreed her donations should go to a program giving respite, recreation and support to young carers.

Lucinda talked with Vinnies and they agreed her donations should go to a program giving respite, recreation and support to young carers.Credit:Louise Kennerley

"Her sister won't do it,'' Cressida said, with a laugh. "And I won't make her do it. Just as I won't make Lucinda do it. I guess it just shows what a nice caring nature she has.''

Lucinda's next plan is to volunteer for Vinnies, something she has to wait for until she is 10 years and nine months, for insurance reasons.

"She might be able to pack gift baskets and hampers but ultimately she'd like to volunteer in one of the shops,'' Cressida said.

Sarah Clifton, director of youth and young adults for St Vincent's, said one in 10 young people in the community was a carer for a family member with a chronic illness or disability. The St Nick's young carer's program in Canberra provided respite and recreation as well as peer support for young carers aged nine to 17. The program was not government funded so every donation counted.

"So something like the $200 Lucinda has donated could provide a weekend activity for 20 carers for a couple of hours. Something like ice skating or rock climbing, something to get them out of the house and help create happy memories,'' Mrs Clifton said.

She was impressed by Lucinda's maturity and compassion.

"We rarely see someone as young as her donate money so we're pretty impressed by her level of awareness of social justice and the plight of young people in her own community,'' Mrs Clifton said.

Megan Doherty is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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