THAT this is going to be a Christmas like no other seen in most people’s lifetimes cannot be disputed given the Covid-ridden year that we have had. This time last year, the majority of us were planning the office parties and the Christmas festivities with free rein to do what we wanted to and go wherever our fancy took us, while welcoming home loved ones from abroad was just par for the course.
How times have changed since then: we are facing a severely-curtailed Christmas if we abide – as we should – by the recommendations of public health officials and limit our inter-household contacts intelligently in order not to be the cause of a resurgence of the coronavirus during the festive period. Sadly, however, a lot of people are going to get carried away with partying, not giving much thought to what their actions could mean for others, and we could be back in lockdown early in the new year.
However, in the meantime, there is a significant number of households all over the country where Christmas will not be as happy due to the low incomes they are forced to live on. While many workers who were out of their jobs during the lockdowns have been somewhat protected financially by the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, there would have been a shortfall and that will make it more difficult for them to afford the extras that are expected at Christmas time.
The number of people unemployed as a result of the pandemic has risen considerably since last March and the incomes of those affected has fallen sharply as a result. Launching what it described as the ‘most difficult’ annual appeal in its 176-year history, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) stated that many families will face ‘impossible choices’ this Christmas and that sets the theme for this year.
Acknowledging that Christmas will be different for everyone in 2020, SVP is cognisant of the ‘really hard’ situation that families on low incomes face in the lead-up to it: If you are struggling to keep a roof over your head, how do you choose between a decent dinner or a warm house? What do you sacrifice to buy your children those precious gifts after such a tough year?
These are the ‘impossible choices’ a lot of families will be forced make without intervention from organisations like SVP, who are always on hand to make the difference for those who need assistance, which is given willingly and discretely. However, with a growing number of families in need of assistance this year, the organisation’s resources – and those of other charities – are being severely stretched.
SVP national president Rose McGowan reported that, between January and early November, almost 112,000 requests for help had already been received and the charity expects this number to exceed 160,000 before year end. There is an even greater need for donations this Christmas as there have been no SVP church gate collections for most of the year and the its Vincent’s charity shops have also been closed for long periods.
Ms McGowan said that, this year, anyone donating online or by phone will have the opportunity to direct their donations to a specific locality in the country. SVP conferences across West Cork will also be open to take in donations this weekend at their respective local premises.
Physical visits to people’s homes are not happening, therefore the ability of SVP to deliver food hampers or toys is limited. So, in addition to financial donations, they are appealing for vouchers which can be exchanged for food and gifts of all kinds.
Because of people working from home and saving on commuting costs, and also not spending as much on socialising and holidays this year, due to limited opportunities to do so, perhaps they have more money available to support the charity sector? Certainly, that support is needed more than ever in 2020.
And, it is not just the SVP that needs people’s donations. All charities have felt the pinch of not being able to have their usual fundraising campaigns and events this year.
Local community organisations, which are run mainly by volunteers, are in particular need of support – especially charities supporting the elderly and the more vulnerable members of our society – and this season of goodwill is an opportune time for anybody who can afford to do so to contribute to help them continue the good work they do.