St Vincent de Paul: It's the most difficult Xmas in decades for many

Vulnerable people in Cork are facing impossible choices this Christmas, and St Vincent de Paul need public support more than ever, says Paddy O’Flynn, the President of St Vincent De Paul South-West
St Vincent de Paul: It's the most difficult Xmas in decades for many

At the launch of the Annual SVP South-West Car Draw with Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr. Deirdre Forde are Bishop Fintan Gavin, Bishop of Cork and Ross; Paddy O'Flynn, South West Regional Vice President for the Cork Region, St. Vincdent de Paul and Justin Young, Mahon Point Centre director. Picture: Brian Lougheed

CHRISTMAS is always St Vincent de Paul’s busiest time of the year, but this winter season has seen a huge increase in demand for our services.

It has been a stark couple of months for many families and individuals – exorbitant fuel costs, rises in the cost of living, and adverse weather conditions are creating impossible choices for the many vulnerable people we support across Cork and Kerry.

We anticipated pressure on the Society this winter, generally we see an increase in the number of people seeking assistance around this time every year. We knew that the impact of fuel costs and rising costs of food would hit people hard. There has been a perfect storm brewing for some time. Unfortunately, those on lower incomes have felt these additional expenses the most – and this group of people is where we are seeing the biggest increase in calls for assistance.

Despite knowing that we would face additional demands and pressure for our services, the volume of people who are struggling has surpassed even what we had anticipated. We are facing the most difficult Christmas in decades. The re-opening of society after the pandemic and the first festive season in a number of years with no restrictions means the excitement in the air is palpable, however, unfortunately we feel that this is being offset with an air of worry and anxiety from people who do not know how they will get through this period, personally or financially, and we feel it is important to bear this in mind.

This month we are receiving over 1,400 calls per week from people struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table, a 30% increase on last year, this number has continued to rise throughout December, particularly with the arrival of the recent cold spell which has forced families to prioritise heating their homes.

The sky-rocketing cost of living is sadly reflected in the financial struggles of people from all walks of life this Christmas, from working families to lone parents, and those relying on social welfare payments.

As mentioned, we have major concerns this year about the high volume of calls from full-time, low-income workers we are receiving – we have not previously seen this level of demand from this group, and coupled with pensioners, carers and those on disability payments who are also in need of help, we are facing unprecedented pressure on our much-needed services.

Unfortunately, many are being forced to choose between heating their homes or putting food on the table for their families. The cost-of-living crisis has pushed people further and further into the poverty trap. As a direct result of the increased price of food, fuel and energy, significant pressure has been placed on our reserve funds for the year, as for example, we have had to increase the value of our food vouchers to tackle the cost of buying food in supermarkets.

Presently, 80% of our fundraising is conducted between the October to December period, and post-pandemic, our regular church collections have only been permitted to resume this year.

With the Christmas season now well underway, our key fundraising focus is the Annual SVP South-West Car Draw throughout Cork and Kerry with ticket income raised in Cork being used to support those in need in COrk and the same in Kerry.which , for the second year in a row, includes Kerry, and so funds raised there will go directly to supporting those in need in Kerry. During what is undoubtedly our toughest winter in decades, the funds raised from the Car Draw will ensure we can continue providing vital services, and so we are asking the generous public our supporters to contribute what they can. It is a tough time of year for everybody, but every donation makes a difference, and I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our donors and supporters across Cork and Kerry for their great generosity over the past year.

We provide a wide range of supports outside of providing fuel and food vouchers – we supply coal to up to 4,350 homes across Cork and Kerry throughout the winter, and each week, we deliver 350 food hampers to individuals and families as part of the SVP Cork and Kerry Hamper Projects.

We are also receiving increased calls for help from college students, and we currently provide 190 third-level students with funding and bursaries, without which they would not be able to attend university due to social disadvantage and financial hardship.

Though we are not a homeless charity, we do a lot of behind-the-scenes work to ensure people do not lose their homes, as high rent combined with the cost of living has placed increased stress on many.

The Annual Car Draw is our primary fundraising event of the year, and tickets including free post envelopes have been delivered to each household throughout Cork and Kerry.

Tickets are €5 each and can also be purchased online at the following link: www.galabid.com/SVPcardraw.

The first prize will be a brand new Ford Focus kindly donated by the Kavanagh Family’s TOMAR Trust. In addition to this, there will be six other cash prizes.

The draw will take place on January 11 at CAB Motors, Cork with the Lord Mayor in attendance, where the winners will be announced.

Thanks to the kindness of our supporters, we have emerged from the worst of the pandemic, however, SVP and the wider country are facing our most challenging winter yet as the cost-of-living crisis continues. Despite another tough year, we remain determined to continue providing crucial support to those who most need it.

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