A group of people who can’t afford Christmas Day dinner, or who for various reasons don’t have the enthusiasm for it, are being brought together this year by the city’s newest organisation.
However, Lean on Us is a very low-key group because the very people they want to help want to keep that assistance private.
You could say there’s a ‘new poor’ in Galway City — a group of people who wouldn’t dream of seeking help from the St Vincent de Paul Society to name but one organisation.
They might have run small businesses that went belly up in the recent recession and now find they are just barely keeping afloat as they repay bank loans on companies that no longer exist.
Lean On Us was the brainchild of one Salthill-based woman who wants to keep her anonymity to protect the very people being helped.
Teresa, a former teacher now working in accounts, said she came across so many people who were in dire straits who were under the radar of charities like SVP.
“I realised that there were a lot of people troubled by finances, people you wouldn’t think were poor but who I knew couldn’t put food on the table.
“In September I came up with the idea and now there are 12 volunteers helping families of all ages across the city in a very low-key way.
“No money is involved. No fundraising has been undertaken. This is all about donations of food distributed to families in a very low-key, discreet manner. I take the bus rather than use my own car when delivering food to protect their identities as they don’t want people to know how badly off they really are,” she explained.
But the low-key approach had to be broken this week when Teresa realised that they would need a suitable venue if they were to provide a Christmas Day meal for up to 30 people.
“I have had people in my own house and I wanted to share our own day with some families, but there were too many to fit in my own house, so I decided to spread the word.”
Only hours after being on the Keith Finnegan Show on Galway Bay FM last week, Teresa got offers from NUI Galway, the Dominican Hall and a restaurant, owned by Michael Keaney in Ballybane to use their premises on the day.
Teresa was already visiting one of these venues when she spoke to the Galway City Tribune about her plans for the day.
“All the food will be donated and probably cooked by the volunteers on or off the premises. Obviously we won’t be publicising where we choose because we want to continue helping these people discreetly.
“I know if I was in their shoes, I would be the last person to seek help with SVP or anyone. They all do great work but some people don’t accept their new circumstances or are too private and proud to seek help.”
Because Lean On Us doesn’t publicly seek the ‘new poor’ Teresa and her volunteers use other means to find them.
“I sometimes sit in the foyer of University Hospital Galway or listen to people on buses and I approach them gently if I feel they qualify for the service we are providing. I just give people my number and, usually, they do contact me because they know they will be helped discreetly.”
Teresa dismisses any suggestion that she is a ‘do gooder’ saying she is only doing what she believes has to be done to ensure these families are not ignored.
She has studied counselling but also uses her own common sense and decency when talking to people.
“The Red Cross has also come on board for the day and as well as being able to provide a Christmas lunch for a few families, they might also get comfort from knowing they are not alone,” she adds.
As well as food donations, Teresa said Christmas decorations would be welcomed to make the chosen venue festive for the occasion.
Anyone interested in donating or becoming involved as a volunteer or indeed going to the Christmas meal can ring Teresa on 0851763927.
Meeting hears of “devastating impact” of Huntington’s on families
The Minister of State for Disability at the Department of Health has acknowledged the devastating impact which Huntington’s Disease has on the entire family.
Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte met with families affected by the disease at the Huntington’s Disease Association of Ireland annual meeting in Ballinasloe.
The Minister spoke positively about her intention to ensure families affected by HD will have access to necessary services and that family carers, who often care for several family members, have assistance.
She acknowledged the vital need for HD specialist support in the community to overcome the misunderstanding and stigma associated with the disease over generations.
The Minister also confirmed her priority to fully resource at least four of the seven required community neuro-rehabilitation teams around the country.
A member of a family affected by HD in County Galway said: “It is very encouraging to have Minister Rabbitte speak at our meeting to acknowledge the huge struggles families face.
“Huntington’s Disease desperately needs more recognition, more specialist support and more awareness from healthcare professionals; policy makers; and the general public.
“As children we grew up watching our Dad help care for Mum and just a few years later he had to start over with my older brother.
“Now my sister has symptoms and it is an ongoing struggle to get her the care and support she needs. HD families can overcome the fear and stigma associated with this disease if we know there are sufficient resources to ensure health and social care professionals can understand and help,” he said.
Huntington’s Disease affects the body’s nervous system – the network of nerve tissues in the brain and spinal cord that co-ordinate your body’s activities. This leads to progressive deterioration – physically, cognitively, and mentally until the individual becomes dependent on the help of others. Symptoms include motor (movement), mental health (for example mood) and cognitive (for example learning and thinking) disturbances, which in the majority of cases appear in mid-adult life.
Approximately 1,000 people in Ireland live with symptoms of HD or with the altered gene that triggers the disease. There are more than 3,000 people nationwide who are living at risk of developing the disease and hundreds of family carers left to struggle without adequate supports.
Despite the impact on families, from one generation to the next, there is little awareness of the condition and very limited specialist services. Unlike most other European countries, Ireland has no specialist multidisciplinary services or HD specialist nurses. By comparison, Scotland, with a similar-sized population have 10 regional multidisciplinary clinics with a team of 19 HD specialists offering outreach support throughout the country.
Concerns over day care move
Day care services at St Brendan’s Community Nursing Unit – which have been suspended for the past 18 months – have re-opened at the Loughrea Hotel.
Services restarted on Monday following a lengthy search for a suitable premises, and expected to continue operating from the hotel for around 18 months while an existing building on the St Brendan’s campus is “repurposed” by the HSE.
However, at least one local councillor has expressed concerns that the same level of services will not be available at the hotel.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) ordered the closure of day services at St Brendan’s, so that the space could be used by permanent residents of the nursing unit for dining and activities such as cooking and baking.
Local area councillor Michael ‘Moegie’ Maher said that between the hotel and St Brendan’s hospital, a day care service will now be available on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the capacity to serve 86 people every week.
“The service is vital to Loughrea and East Galway. Everyone was very disappointed to see the day service suspended. We all have neighbours and friends who use the service and this was a vital lifeline for them, allowing them to socialise with others, to have a lovely meal together and to have any minor medical issues dealt with.
“I’m delighted that a suitable premises has been found in Loughrea town, which has been the traditional location for the service and also offers users a chance to avail of other services in our local town. The Loughrea Hotel is the perfect location with all of the necessary services on site and is easily accessed by the service users”, the Fine Gael councillor and Cathaoirleach of Loughrea Municipal District said.
However, Independent councillor Geraldine Donohue raised concerns about the level of services that will be provided and said she had been asked by constituents how much the temporary service was going to cost.
“I believe that HIQA should have been challenged from the outset for our purpose built Seven Springs Day Care Centre to remain at St Brendan’s. As far as operating Day Care Services from the Loughrea Hotel, I have concerns that the services that the attendees enjoyed at Seven Springs will not be available at the Loughrea Hotel,” she said.
Meanwhile Galway East TD Ciarán Cannon said HSE management are also planning to repurpose an existing building on the St Brendan’s campus to establish a permanent home for the day care service.
He said he had attended a site meeting recently to identify potential buildings on the campus.
“We now need to begin developing a permanent home for the service at St Brendan’s as it makes sense from so many perspectives to have the service on campus.
“At our site meeting we walked the campus and have identified a number of potential locations. The HSE’s building management team will now create a shortlist of locations and ultimately a decision on the final location will be made in consultation with staff.
“The intention is to partner with the Topping Trust, a local charity, to create a state-of-the-art day care facility at St Brendan’s to open in the shortest possible timeframe. We are all working towards that outcome and there’s a serious sense of urgency attached to the project,” said Deputy Cannon.
Plant closure’s sour note for Council rates income
Focus has shifted towards finding a new use for the soon-to-be disused milk bottling plant in Kilconnell – as the County Council faces a hole in its budget due to a loss of rates income.
Despite the best efforts of local councillors, TDs and industry representatives, Arrabawn’s decision to withdraw from Kilconnell appeared to be irreversible, the Ballinasloe Municipal District meeting was told.
Local representatives met with the board of Arrabawn in Nenagh in the immediate aftermath of their decision and Cllr Michael Connolly (FF) said it was his sense that “there was no going back”.
“The whole business has changed. Even previous to the energy crisis, the plant was operating at a loss.
“We have to see that the plant is put to some alternative use – maybe a cheese manufacturing plant . . . maybe a brewery,” said Cllr Connolly, adding that the company had made it clear there would not be a milk production plant in Kilconnell again.
“They did say they would look at a joint-venture, or to sell it,” he said.
Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) said she took a different view and would “never say never”, adding that she felt the company had engaged very well with local representatives.
“I wouldn’t write it off completely,” said the Cathaoirleach of the Ballinasloe MD.
“I would hope there would be a fresh imagining of the premises and that it doesn’t become a derelict site in one of our most beautiful villages,” continued Cllr Parsons.
Cllr Dermot Connolly (SF) said this month’s decision to close the plant, which followed the sale of Arrabawn’s liquid sales book to the Aurivo co-op, was “capitalism at its worst” and had come as a devastating blow to the farming and rural economy in east Galway.
“We need to ensure that the maximum number of jobs are maintained in Kilconnell and that whoever has to take redundancy gets a good redundancy payment.
“Arrabawn did say that they were looking to explore ways milk could still be brought to the plant in Kilconnell and that there might be some way of processing milk to be maintained there . . . it is vital this facility is maintained there,” said Cllr Connolly.
County Council Director of Services, Liam Hanrahan, said the loss of commercial rates for the plant, the loss of employment and the future use of the buildings in Kilconnell were all high on the Council’s agenda.
“The loss of rates is a concern. We have expressed our concern on the loss of our rates base to the Department [of Local Government].
“We don’t want to see a large industrial plant left vacant in a small town like Kilconnell. It doesn’t take long for a building to become derelict,” said Mr Hanrahan.
“The County Council will be more than happy to sit down with anyone who takes an interest in that – the last thing we want to see is a building become derelict and become a drain on everyone’s resources,” he continued.
Cllr Timmy Broderick (Ind) said the looming energy crisis could see a repeat of this scenario in towns across the county.
“Arrabawn could pale in significance to the challenge coming down the road.
“We need to ensure we stand behind eery industry facing this in the not-too-distant future. There is a train crash coming down the line,” he said of the increased cost of running a business.