Salvation Army volunteer Alan Jessop honoured with OAM | HerCanberra

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Salvation Army volunteer Alan Jessop honoured with OAM

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Alan Jessop is best known for sitting quietly in the Canberra Centre, a worn wooden box in his hands, collecting money for the Salvation Army.

Over the course of three decades, he raised more than $4 million dollars in support of their charitable work. In 2011, Alan was the ACT state recipient of the Local Hero award, an acknowledgement given as part of the Australian of the Year awards. Today, he has been recognised with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).

Alan feels uncomfortable with public recognition but is touched to be honoured for his service as a volunteer. He is now 91 and for the past fourteen years has been living with prostate cancer which, now that it has metastasised to his bones, makes it increasingly difficult for him to move.

“I am so grateful to my doctors and nurses, everyone at Woden hospital, for keeping me well enough to collect for so long. Getting up, going to work, talking with people was what kept me going.”

Two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to Alan’s volunteering, with his official retirement being announced in early 2021.

“I wish I was still doing it. I miss meeting all the people, there were so many. A few even used to buy me a hot chocolate!” Alan’s eyes crinkle with a smile.

“If I had got one [an OAM] about three years ago, when I was feeling well and I was still working, it would be even more exciting. Since I had to give up work and my health has deteriorated it is harder to be excited.”

Alan Jessop’s portrait by Barbara van der Linden.

With Alan isolated from the people and work he values so much, I put a call out on social media for people to share their memories of him. I received so many beautiful messages from people who would seek Alan out during their lunch break just to have a chat, people who remembered giving him money as a child and receiving a sticker in return.

Others remembered trying to find out if he was okay if they had popped by and found him missing from his post. Many remembered his smile and the way he said thank you as a trickle of coins were dropped into the collection box.

We have been sitting together in Alan’s home in a room littered with reminders of his time collecting. His Salvation Army hat still lies on a nearby couch while the suitcase he used to transport money people had donated sits in a corner. A portrait of Alan painted by Canberra artist Barbara van der Linden hangs on the wall beside a framed photograph of him in his uniform.

Perhaps the reason Alan has had such an effect on so many people is due to his commitment to being present, to being available over such a long duration of time. He has provided a sense of stability and continuity for so many.

Alan is touched by the memories I shared with him. I asked if he hoped that people would continue to remember him and if receiving an OAM is part of that.

“An OAM is some recognition for many years of hard work but my favourite thing about collecting has been meeting so many people and making so many good friends. I hope that people remember that I worked hard. I hope they were happy to see me. Mostly, I hope people are still giving what they can to those who need it.”

Feature image via Canberra Centre. All other images courtesy of the author.

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