He might not be young, on trend or in Braddon, however Alan Jessop is an ordinary Canberran quietly doing an extraordinary thing. Come this December, he will have been collecting money for the Salvation Army in the Canberra Centre and its predessecor Monaro Mall for 27 years. Many people will remember having put money in his collection box, receiving a gruff “thanks Mate” or “thanks Love,” perhaps not realising that their contribution has allowed him to single-handedly raise over four million dollars for those in Canberra who need it most.
Alan first moved here from Sydney in 1988 to be closer to his daughter and her family. Already retired, he was looking for something constructive to do and approached the Canberra City Corps of the Salvation Army. He began collecting money outside what was then the Monaro Mall. “I used to sit at the corner of Petrie Plaza and City Walk back then,” he recalls. “I next moved over to the city Market where there was a lot more people traffic”.
Over the years he has witnessed many changes to the Canberra Centre, the locals and their shopping habits. He has a number of regulars who come by to see him. “So many of my old friends–some of them I have been keeping up with since I first started collecting–have passed away now but there are still plenty of people to see and talk to.” Chatting with people is his favourite part of collecting.
His hard work was first publically recognised in 2011 when he was nominated for and won ‘Local Hero of the Year’ for the ACT. Although he doesn’t look for praise or recognition, this was a very proud moment for him and his family. He met the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Governor General Quentin Bryce and the Queen.
“That was such a good year,” his wife Joy remembers. “We felt so special to meet so many people and have them congratulate Alan.” During the Canberra Centenary celebrations in 2013, local artist Barbara van der Linden painted his portrait and exhibited it alongside other iconic Canberra faces. This portrait is now hung proudly in the lounge room at home. “I was surprised that my portrait was painted. It turned out really good.”
The 85 year old has had to reduce his collecting from three days a week to one or two, due to his failing health. He has suffered two heart attacks and has been managing prostate cancer–now metastasised to his bones–for nearly a decade. He doesn’t let any of this stop him however, and he is always right back on his seat in the Canberra Centre as soon he is able.
Donations have been down over the past few years. Perhaps, he ponders, due to the job freeze in the public service and the general economic climate, but this just spurs him on to keep collecting, making sure those in need get as much as he can get them. Next time you are in the Canberra Centre, please say hello, slip some money in his collection box and help contribute to those in Canberra who need the help of the Salvation Army.