Vincent de Paul reports surge in calls from 'a forgotten layer of society'
St Vincent de Paul volunteers are at the coalface in the fight against poverty
Today, the Society of St Vincent de Paul release its figures for the number of people who contacted its offices for help in 2012. For the first time the number of calls have exceeded 100,000; an increase of 104 per cent from 2009.
Once the calls come into any of the 13 offices around the country, volunteers will go out to offer help. Help takes the form of food vouchers, contributions to utility bills, school books, glasses for children, clothes, fuel, and sometimes simply a listening ear to those who feel unable to cope.
There are 10,500 Vincent de Paul volunteers around the State. Jimmy Scurry is one of them. For the last three years, he has gone out most Tuesdays with a partner volunteer to visit homes in Finglas, Dublin between 7 and 10pm.
We’re walking round the parts of Finglas he visits weekly; the Cappagh, Dunsink, and Wellmount areas. “There’s a forgotten layer of society out there I didn’t know even existed until I joined the society,” Scurry says.
Some houses he indicates look neglected, with yards full of abandoned household items. Others are beautifully maintained, with carefully tended gardens. But if you were equating need with appearance, you would be wrong, because all of the houses he points out contain families in need that are visited by Vincent de Paul.
“It’s like a business in that there are cycles,” Scurry observes. “You know when certain things will happen. At the moment, it’s utility bills and requests for fuel. Then there will be confirmations, communions, back to school, Christmas. They are the key times of need during the year.”
As we walk around the area, he talks about some of the families he has visited. Before Christmas, there was the couple, aged 85 and 82 respectively, who were making their first call to the society.
“They were terrified of the cold weather, and had no money to pay for oil.” Told they were too old to qualify for a credit union loan, they were referred to the Society by the fuel company. They were very upset they had to contact us. They had been donors in the past, as had their own parents.”
Some time ago, he got an emergency call to visit a middle-class family in a smart area of Dublin where the husband was no longer working. “They had four children, and there was literally nothing to eat in the house. Their priority had been to keep mortgage repayments up through savings. They didn’t want anyone to know, until they reached breaking point and called us.”
Scurry sees the fact that this family finally contacted the Society as positive. They helped them initially with food vouchers, referred them to Mabs (Money Advice and Budgeting Service), and continue to help on an ongoing basis.