Joan Burton has been making clothes since she was just a teenager. At almost 100 years of age, the sprightly local continues to use her skills to give back to the community as a volunteer with a charity sewing group.
Uniforms 4 Kids is an innovative program repurposing donated law enforcement and emergency services organisations uniforms, which would otherwise have been disposed of, into beautiful clothes made for children in need.
Joan was recently recognised for her work with the charity at a special morning tea, surrounded by family and friends.
“I’ve always been a sewer. Mum taught myself and my sister from a very young age” Joan says.
“I have always made all my own clothes, too – even the slacks and the shirt I’m wearing today.
“I started worked in a clothing factory at 14, making men trousers.
“We got a penny for a pair of trousers and I never made my wages because I was too fussy,” she adds, laughing.
Originally from Ipswich, the mother of two and grandmother of six says her work with Uniforms 4 Kids has allowed her to keep her mind sharp and her hands busy, while contributing to a wonderful cause.
“I’m very devoted to it. It’s such a wonderful charity,” Joan says.
“It’s also done so much good for me.
“I have a bad hand, due to a stroke, that doesn’t want to work, but what I’m doing with Uniforms 4 Kids gives me every opportunity to make it work.”
Uniforms 4 Kids was founded in 2016 by Yvonne Pattinson OAM, intended only to clean out a cupboard crowded with material.
A sewer all her life, Yvonne retired to the Queensland coastal township of Cooroy with a lifetime collection of ‘bits and pieces’.
Anxious not to waste any, she decided to make them into clothing for young children.
A friend then asked if she could take the clothing to an orphanage she supported in Asia. In stepped Yvonne’s daughter, Debbie Platz, then a Queensland Police officer, who pointed out there were many children in Australia who needed clothing. Why not use the police uniforms she and her colleagues had to discard?
The idea to repurpose uniforms, saving them from being shredded and ending up as landfill, was met with great support. Uniforms 4 Kids was born.
Uniforms 4 Kids director and former Queensland acting assistant commissioner of police (Metropolitan North Region), Anne Macdonald, says the charity also provides an opportunity for frontline officers, other emergency services personnel and wildlife officers to connect with children and families in ways that they are not usually able to.
In turn, this creates a broad trust relationship that serves to engage with and protect children and their families.
Anne says she is so grateful for volunteers such as Joan who give so generously of their time and expertise.
“It’s amazing to think we have a lady who is so sprightly for 99 and still wants to give back to the community,” she says.
“Joan unpicks the badges off the pale blue shirts and cuts off the collars so the sewers can deconstruct them – she’s amazing.
“Every single person with Uniforms 4 Kids is a volunteer. Every single cent we receive goes to buy everything our volunteers need.”
So far, the charity has donated an incredible 43,500 items of clothing to children in need.
“They go to domestic violence shelters, community centres, migrant groups, hospital boards, foster children – anywhere there is a need,” Anne says.
Not only is the charity bringing smiles to the faces of children who need it most, Anne says it’s also a great social outlet for women who are seeking friendship and connection, while utilising their skills.
As for Joan, she has no intention of stopping any time soon.
“I think it’s important to have an interest. If you can’t use your sewing machine anymore, at least you can do something useful with your hands,” she says. “I don’t know how long I can do it but I’m going to do the best I can for as long as I can.”
For more information on U4K, go to uniforms4kids.com.au