Providing a helping hand at Christmas

Features

PREPARING FOR A BUSY CHRISTMASPictured at the launch last week of Westport St Vincent De Paul’s Annual Appeal were, from left: Marie Ruane, Westport SVP President; Fr Charlie McDonnell, Adm, Westport; and Mayo footballer and Community Policing officer, Garda Colm Boyle. Pic: Conor McKeown

Westport

Anton McNulty

November is the time of the year when school children sit down to write their letters to the North Pole asking Santa Claus to bring them the latest computer game or in demand toy.
In the last number of weeks, it is letters of a different kind which have been arriving daily at the Westport office of St Vincent de Paul and instead of toys, people are seeking support to put food on the table and logs on the fire during the Christmas season.
Last week, the Westport branch of St Vincent de Paul launched their Christmas appeal and its treasurer, Stephen Brehony, explained that going by the requests they have received since the beginning of the month, they will need every cent to see them through the season.
“We have been getting letters for the last month from people asking if we could help them at Christmas with fuel and food, and we expect it to get busier as we get closer to Christmas. It will continue to a few days before Christmas when then you usually get people who would never come to us before and come to us in a panic. We have no reason to believe this year will be any different,” he told The Mayo News.
Like every organisation in the country, St Vincent de Paul has been affected by the Covid pandemic and resulted in a busier than usual summer period with 600 EU financed FEAD hampers distributed to households in the wider Westport community.
The Westport area was disproportionately affected by the Covid restrictions and lockdowns which resulted in a large number of people losing their jobs in the town’s normally thriving hospitality sector.
While St Vincent de Paul never ask people the reason for seeking support, Stephen believes that Covid restrictions has resulted in some people coming forward for help but without the Covid payments the situation could have led to ‘dire poverty’.

Busiest time of year
The weeks up to Christmas are normally the charity’s busiest time of the year and Stephen, who mans the confidental phoneline, says that the mental pressure which comes with Christmas is as much an issue for low income families.
“This is a time when the pressure is more mental pressure than anything else with the worry and the demands which comes with Christmas. With the ads on television it is natural that young children want to have what their friends down the road are getting and sometimes people go without in order to buy an expensive present for the child.
“Our primary requests for help is for help with fuel and food. Our slogan is they are only a bill away from being in debt and it can happen very easily. If they had a problem with a fridge or their cooker, they might have to find €300 or €400 to get them fixed or buy a new one and that will really put them behind. That is where we come in and help them with fuel, food and vouchers for perishable food. We try to be as generous as we can but this year we have to be careful because we were busy all through the summer.”
The extra resources used during the start of the pandemic has affected the charity’s funds and having been unable to hold a church gate collection, they find themselves with €20,000 less to spend.
The annual Christmas appeal normally keeps them going for the 12 months and while praising the generosity of the public, Stephen feels this year’s appeal is as important as ever.
“We have our number in the newsletter and the paper every week and there is not a week which goes by without us getting two or three new calls. For some people making that initial call to us is like going into the workhouse. They find it hard to make that phone call. We don’t judge people when they call … if they need help we will help them.”