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SVP’s words of comfort for families finding it tough to make ends meet this Christmas

There has been a significant hike in young people and working families unable to meet their rent or energy bills calling the St Vincent de Paul in a desperate state.

But there is help, even if it’s to pay the rent for a few weeks or get over household costs until the other side of Christmas, insists Seamus McManus, SVP Galway Area President.

Volunteers are currently working flat out to put together around 1,200 hampers to be distributed in time for Christmas across the city and part of the county at their food hub in Ballybane.

Families and single people have until December 17 to request one if they are in need of extra help to get through this time of the year.

“But anybody can ring Oznam House and leave a voicemail at any time. That will be checked, even at Christmas. It’s totally confidential.”

Some conferences are extremely busy with a high volume of calls while others in well-established havens of need are on a par with other years.

Young people and young families who are in low paid jobs are in particular difficulty as they head towards the end of this difficult 2023 where energy bills, fuel costs and inflation-boosted cost of living prices have not eased.

“Rents seems to have gone up a good bit this year. People on low wages are paying incredibly high rent. If it’s a single parent with a couple of kids, they’re very limited what work they can do, the hours they can do. We’ve one single mother who’s paying €690 on top of what HAP (Housing Assistance Payment from the local authority) is paying – €240 to the council and a top up of €450 to the landlord – that’s an awful chunk out of small money.”

Social welfare recipients are limited to working 20 hours a week in order to continue their benefits, including the HAP, which they cannot do without to keep a roof over their head, stresses Seamus.

“So really, they’re trapped. And if you’ve got a child who gets sick, you may have to stay at home to mind that child so you’ve no income coming in for that week, it puts you under enormous pressure.

“We’re trying to make sure at least they’re not hungry by giving food hampers so at least there’s something on the table. We also have pre-paid power vouchers. Now not all suppliers take them, but you should see the way their eyes light up when they get a couple of vouchers for the electricity and the gas. Quite a few houses we go into are cold, they’re just too afraid to put on the heat because of the bills.”

As well as the practical support in dealing with bills, education costs, the charity tries to offer support and friendship to anybody having difficulty dealing with illness, supporting family members, addressing mental health problems, family breakdown, addiction issues.

Loneliness can be a real problem.

SVP have largely moved away from door-to-door collections after Covid when they lost many volunteers among their older members. They also found residents are fearful of opening doors to strangers.

They now distribute blue envelopes through newspapers and at churches asking for donations to keep their services running.

There is a conference active in every community in Galway city and county, so nobody should struggle alone, insists Seamus.

In addition to home visits by volunteers, the SVP Resource Centre in Croí na Gaillimhe, Mill St is open every day for services to vulnerable individuals and groups in the form of lunch clubs, homework clubs, intergenerational activities, language classes.

Pictured: Help at hand….Seamus McManus, SVP Galway Area President.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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