A helping hand in a time of ‘Impossible Choices’

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) Annual Appeal launched last month is one of the most difficult in the Society’s 176 years history. Christmas will be different for everyone this year but the theme ‘Impossible Choices’ reflects the really hard situation families on low incomes face in the lead up to Christmas.

The Clonakilty branch has been working with people in need in the local community for 160 years and the work done by the organisation and its members has never been so important as now, when people are under such severe financial and psychological stress due to the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

If you are struggling to keep a roof over your head, how do you choose between a decent dinner and a warm house? What do you sacrifice to buy your children those precious gifts after such a tough year?

St Vincent De Paul Clonakilty helped nearly 250 families last year to the tune of €130 K to keep their heads above water

Launching the Annual Appeal, Ryan Tubridy said “Poverty is never easy to confront and yet, every Christmas it is impossible to ignore. Never has it been so important as in 2020 in the middle of a pandemic, and when people are on their knees wondering what do to next, wondering how to pay the next bill or fill the schoolbag with books, and how they will feed their family every night”

“It can be very difficult for people to make that initial contact with the Society, especially if they haven’t been in a position where they have needed to ask for help before,” said Agnes Cahill, President of the Clonakilty branch of St Vincent de Paul. “But based on the need of the individual or family, assistance is given in a non-judgmental spirit of compassion,” she emphasises.

Our members are very accessible and our door is always open to anyone,” adds Noel Lawlor, the organisation’s education officer.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul provides practical financial support and advice, assistance with grants for fuel and a short-term safety net for those who fall outside the welfare state. It also provides social housing to the over-50s at affordable prices: There are 24 housing units in three locations around Clonakilty town.

There is also an Education Grant scheme provided by the Society to which people can apply for financial assistance to pursue third level education. Anyone is welcome to apply. “We have a bursary up to a value of €2,000 for each student per annum,” explains Noel. “Once you qualify for the grant, it’s made available for the duration of the student’s course.”

Most of the students who qualify for the Education Grant would already have been accepted for the Susie scheme. However as Agnes points out, “the Susie grants would probably not stretch to cover accommodation costs if the students are attending third level colleges far from home.

“The €2,000 is there to cover whatever they need, whether that’s travel costs or course materials,” she says.

“It’s fantastic to see the recipients of these grants progressing and achieving their goals in life,” says Noel. “Many of them now in fact support the Society themselves.”

Last year alone, the Clonakilty branch invested €45,000 in supporting 30 students attending college and university.

This type of investment is only possible as a result of the generous donations and fundraising efforts of the public throughout the year and in particular during the annual collection in December. The need for donations this year has been exacerbated by the fact that there can be no SVP church gate collections this year due to the Pandemic. Instead anyone who wants to make a donation in person can do so in the locations listed (see advert on this page) on Saturday, December 12.

“Everyone deserves a helping hand when needed and all help is given with the utmost respect to the privacy of the individual or family,” says Agnes.

‘We’d like people to approach us as if they were approaching a family member who is in a position to help them financially through a difficult period,” says Noel. 

In what has been a difficult year for charities all over Ireland, Agnes and Noel would like to assure people that any monies donated to the local branch of St Vincent de Paul are distributed in the immediate locality.

If you wish to make a donation you can do so through the Clonakilty Saint Vincent de Paul GoFundMe page. All donations greatly appreciated 

To contact the Clonakilty branch directly for assistance call 087 3769935.

The numbers for the other branches in West Cork are as follows: Bandon 086 8255092; Bantry 086 1710559; Dunmanway 086 3458037: Skibbereen 087 9182698.

Mary O'Brien

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