Dundalk SVP: ‘No family in need will go without this Christmas’

Community: Dundalk’s SVP branch launch website asking for donations

Dundalk SVP: ‘No family in need will go without this Christmas’

It is difficult to ask people to think of others when so many are themselves experiencing great difficulties in their lives.

This awful pandemic which has invaded our lives since last March has presented us all with challenges we never thought that we would encounter in our lifetimes.

Amid all the heartbreak caused by death and illness, unemployment, fear and loneliness we are having to deal with Christmas.

Christmas, a time for family, a time of joy and of reflection on the true meaning of this great feast that will not be the same this year.

Yet there are many amongst us who are determined that Christmas will be as normal as possible this year.

People like those in the organisation that I am privileged to head in Dundalk like the St. Vincent de Paul who are determined that no family in need will go without this Christmas.

That no child will be deprived of waking on Christmas morning to experience the joy that they may never again encounter of seeing their favourite toy at the bottom of their bed.

That no one living alone and feeling forgotten will not enjoy the small comfort of a box of chocolates, or a glass of wine.

For all of those reasons the truly dedicated and unselfish people who willingly bring so many skills to the work of the SVP in Dundalk have for months been working behind the scenes to ensure that we can help as many people as possible this Christmas.

For some time we have realised that we could not distribute our normal food parcels, so we have been planning to replace the parcels with a variety of vouchers, all of which have been purchased locally.

Schools, firms, office staff and individuals who in the past donate large amounts of food to our appeal have generously contacted us to ask what we need.

People like a wonderful mum, Ellis O'Hagan from Bellurgan who last year raised over €3,000 in her toy appeal in memory of her son, Danann Pearse who died in his sleep in 2018, aged 3 weeks.

This year Ellis has raised an ever greater sum which she will donate in vouchers equally to SVP and Women's Aid.

People like the staff in firms such as PayPal who each year fill a large corner of their canteen with gifts of food and toys, but who this year recognise the difficulties have purchased food and toy vouchers.

Then there is the staff in one small firm who each year make it a special Christmas for one family in dire need by looking after everything - and I mean everything - to make their Christmas special.

They do so anonymously and with a generosity of spirit that is both humbling and inspiring.

To encounter this level of kindness and consideration for others, not just at Christmas but throughout the year, is deeply gratifying for the 100 volunteers attached to the nine Conferences in the Dundalk area, stretching from Omeath to Kilkerley and Dromiskin.

It was been a great source of humility for me personally to experience the dedication of those volunteers to continue to work through the pandemic often at great risk to their own personal health for many are in the Joe Biden age category.

One such member was Agnes McEvoy who we sadly lost a few months back.

Agnes was an inspiration to us all, frail, not in good health, who overcame a fall that would confine many to their home for the rest of their lives.

Yet as soon as she was able, Agnes was back working day and night answering calls for help from the people in the Cox's Demesne area.

There are many like Agnes who have been the bedrock of the SVP in Dundalk for over 150 years.

At times you have to wonder where such people come from and how fortunate that we as a community share their lives.

Naturally Covid has presented us with new challenges. We have to hold virtual meetings. Calls for help to our secure line have to be assessed through phone conversations for we cannot visit homes.

Help, in the form of vouchers or helping with fuel and health costs have to be delivered by hand.

It is therefore a matter of some satisfaction to me that we have managed throughout the last eight months to respond as best we can.

We see at first hand how growing unemployment, mental stress and drug and alcohol abuse has impacted on families.

We're seeing how families who never before needed or asked for our assistance are embarrassed in seeking our help.

Like the newly unemployed father of four now trying to survive of the €350 a week pandemic payment, out of which he must try and meet his rent of €1,100 a month.

That father could never have anticipated last Christmas when he was earning a good wage that he would have to ask the SVP for help this Christmas.

We realise this. That's what we're here for to help people over the unexpected stiles that life throws up.

Recently I met a very prominent national sports commentator who on hearing that I was a SVP volunteer whispered in my ear that he remembered a year when he was young that his family would have had nothing on their Christmas table without the SVP.

Unfortunately we're expecting to encounter more families like that this Christmas for our most recent figures show that there were 3,782 more calls for help in the region above the normal level in October, and for the first two weeks in November that number reached 2,208.

We're determined to respond to every call for help, but we can only do that with your help.

It takes, on average, €300,000 a year to undertake the work of the Society in Dundalk.

That money is raised through our church gate collections, donations and the income from our three charity shops in Dundalk.

Like almost all charities Covid restrictions have seriously disrupted our revenue stream.

Already we have missed four months of our normal church gate collections, and with the prospect of no church services on the first week-end in December when we normally hold our annual appeal we have had to look at other methods of raising this money.

That December appeal last year raised the magnificent sum of €54,000 and as you can see was a big share of our annual income.

To overcome this need we have launched our own website, svp.ie/dundalkareaappeal through which donations can be made and acknowledged.

There is also a free phone 0818 176 176 where donations can also be made.

All the money donated locally will be distributed locally.

We know from the exceptional generosity of the people of Dundalk in past years that we will get the money we need to meet the demand that we encounter and we are determined that whatever it takes we will do our level best for those seeking our help.

We'll get through this as a people, as a community for it is at times like this, when hope is in short supply that we remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi "for it is in giving that we receive".