ST Vincent de Paul branches in West Cork are currently getting over 1,000 calls a week from people looking for help, an increase of 30% compared to this time last year.
Branches in Bandon, Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Bantry and Dunmanway are each reporting an average of 200 calls a week, and they’re bracing themselves for a further surge in the run-up to Christmas.
Brendan Gaynor, a volunteer with the Bandon branch, said there has been a cohort of people coming to them in the past few weeks, who have never before needed assistance.
‘These are people who from the outside look like they’re doing fine, but there are cracks there, and it just takes one little thing to tip the balance,’ he said.
That could be a child going to third level, or something as simple as the washing machine breaking down, he said.
‘Often times these people are gone from us as quickly as they’ve come,’ he added.
The pandemic exasperated this ‘hidden poverty’, for many, but Brendan said the problem was already there.
Right now they’re helping lots of people with home heating costs: ‘There are so many people who can’t afford to even get the minimal fill of oil, so they’re buying cans of oil themselves and putting it in themselves.’
They also recently came to the assistance of a family whose child needed medical treatment in Dublin.
‘They have a few children and had nobody to mind their children while they went to Dublin, so we helped out with their accommodation. Another time it could be giving someone a grocery voucher for €100 who otherwise couldn’t feed the family,’ said Brendan.
He said there can often be feelings of embarrassment by people making the approach, but urged people to come forward for help, especially in the run up to Christmas when each branch will get around 500-600 calls a week.
‘We can’t be proactive and approach people – they have to come to us, and we’d like to reassure them that everything is handled very discreetly. Come forward and get on our Christmas list,’ he said.
Regional president Paddy O’Flynn said that this year fundraising is critically important. Some 80% of SVP’s core fundraising is conducted between now and December.
The annual SVP south west car draw 2021 will be a key fundraising event for the region this year, with tickets and free post return envelopes delivered to all households in the region, and the added option of buying tickets online
He said: ‘The public have always been extremely generous to us. Last year, we were blown away by the support we received during such a difficult time.
However, we are deeply concerned that there is a perception that the difficulty and challenges that we faced last year have somewhat diminished with the re-opening of society.
‘Unfortunately, if anything, our need for support from the public this year is greater as we face further pressure and demands on the core services we provide– food, shelter and education.
‘Poverty affects people in different ways, and we have received calls from all walks of life seeking our help as the cold winter months draw in. Each and every donation will make a difference.’