'We are getting so many distressing calls, we need to debrief our staff once a week'
The organisation is getting increasingly frequent calls from people in states of severe mental distress, ranging from those who are newly unemployed to those who cannot pay bills or provide food for their families.
“I took one call this week from a woman who has cancer and is due to go for surgery next week. She was afraid that if she went into hospital, she’d miss the person from Vincent de Paul coming with the Christmas hamper she needs for her family,” says Kenny.
“Can you imagine? You have the stress of having cancer and needing surgery, and you’re more worried about making sure you have food for your family at Christmas?”
Noel Boyce is one of the volunteers at the helpline. He speaks of a case that stands out most for him at present.
Earlier in the week, clothes vouchers, toys and a hamper had been sent to a 19-year-old girl in Dublin. Both her parents had died in the last couple of years and she is now the sole carer for her three younger siblings, the youngest of whom is eight.
“She’s looking after her whole family,” he says, almost in disbelief.
Kieran Murphy is the national director of Vincent de Paul, and his office is at the Seán MacDermott Street centre.
“There’s a big level of support for us at Christmas, but it’s after Christmas that we need help,” he explains. “People will be coming back to us in January for more help, especially with heating bills.”
Boxes of donations
This year Vincent de Paul spent €4.5 million nationally. Donations come to them in the form of bags of copper coins, €10 notes in the post, cheques for €20 and some from donors for €100,000 at a time. Everything is welcome. Aldi recently announced they would donate €150,000 to the organisation.
“When it comes, that money will go into our fund to disperse throughout the regions,” says Murphy.
In the basement of the building on Seán MacDermott Street, there is a sorting point for an ever-changing assortment of donations, from the public and from companies. At 10am on Friday morning, there was nothing there. By noon, a large portion of the floor was covered with boxes of donations of food, which were being sorted by volunteer transition year students.
“We’ll make up Christmas hampers from these,” explains Patricia Carey, director of services for the organisation. The hampers are actually Londis bags-for-life: the company donated 50,000 of them to Vincent de Paul. “The bags are one of the most useful donations we’ve had,” says Carey. “It’s a classic example of how, if you can’t give cash as a company, you can give us products.”