St Vincent de Paul


WHEN FORMER donors to the St Vincent de Paul (SVP) become recipients of financial aid from the charitable organisation this marks a profound social change. The reversal of roles whereby giver becomes receiver is now a feature of the SVP's daily experience.

It is also a measure of the severity of the economic downturn and of the human hardship that follows as unemployment rises, incomes fall and more households face financial difficulty. So much has changed in such a short time that the SVP, which provides moral and financial support to those in need, is struggling to meet the new challenges.

In launching its Christmas appeal on Monday, SVP president Mairead Bushnell warned that 2009 promises to be the most difficult year for a generation. The voluntary organisation is uniquely placed to judge. Every day the SVP encounters at first hand the reality of social and financial deprivation. Nationwide, its 9,000 members visit people in their homes where they provide support, friendship and material assistance to those in greatest need. Increasingly, as the economy contracts, SVP members report a hidden poverty largely invisible to mainstream Irish society. There, households struggle to balance budgets as unemployment takes its toll, incomes drop and unpaid bills mount up.

The SVP has dealt with a huge increase in calls for support, up by more than a third in Dublin and Cork. In some areas two thirds of all calls received were from families with children. And a quarter of all contacts made with the SVP came from those who had never previously used its services. Such a large and unexpected surge in demand would strain the financial and human resources of any organisation. The SVP is no exception. Nevertheless, its volunteers made more than 300,000 home visits last year, helping to handle financial and other difficulties. This year it expects to spend over €50 million providing those services to the public. However, it also needs an extra €10 million to continue doing so.

In Budget 2009, the Government's extra spending on social welfare payments was close to €1 billion. The extra €10 million that the SVP hopes to raise through its Christmas appeal is just 1 per cent of that figure. But without extra financial support via private donations, the SVP cannot meet the increased public demand for its services. Those who give to this great charity facilitate the work of an organisation that provides not just help to those in greatest need but hope to those who may be close to despair.