'We are getting so many distressing calls, we need to debrief our staff once a week'
On one side of the space are rows of shelves with tins of beans and peas. On the other, are what Carey describes as “luxuries”. There are boxes of chocolate biscuits, packets of coffee, tins of sweets, pasta sauces, mustard, chutneys, teabags, Christmas puddings, soft drinks, crisps, selection boxes and Christmas cakes, among many other things.
“We try to concentrate on luxuries for the Christmas hampers,” says Carey. “Nobody wants to see a hamper full of peas and beans at Christmas. We try to make them full of things you’d like to have yourself.” Nothing will be wasted: the peas and beans will go into food hampers that will be distributed in January.
She opens a box from a member of the public. Inside is a range of expensive branded products from an upmarket supermarket. “You can really see when someone has thought about what they’ll donate, as opposed to someone just clearing out their press,” she says.
Every food hamper is different, depending on what the donations of the day are. The volunteers who pack them try to ensure they all contain some basics such as tea, coffee and sugar, and then a selection of pasta, biscuits, chocolates, a pudding or cake and other treats.
Between now and Christmas this centre will distribute 5,000 Christmas food hampers. Vincent de Paul will not buy any of the food for these thousands of hampers: they are dependent on donations.
“Food is the one thing everyone needs. Supermarket vouchers used to be popular, but we’re finding now that people ask for food, because it’s an immediate need.”
An “immediate need” is defined as meaning that there is no food in the house.
There is car access at the Seán MacDermott Street office, so the public and others can drive in and drop off donations – a crucial element to the building’s function as headquarters. “Cars pull up all the time,” says Carey. “We always get a couple of turkeys on Christmas Eve, which is unfortunately usually too late for us to do anything with them.”
On Christmas Eve also, the centre traditionally gets callers who are prisoners at Mountjoy, out on release for Christmas. “They come in there, looking for toys for their children or something to bring home to their mother. Everyone gets something,” stresses Carey.