The increased level of demand for services provided by the Saint Vincent de Paul in Waterford over the past year has ‘shot through the roof’ according to the Society’s Regional Administrator.
Speaking to The Munster Express, David O’Neill said the increased deliveries of food hampers for families and assisting third level students from disadvantaged areas was in stark contrast to the Government’s refrain regarding the economic recovery.
“In 2014, €364,000 was expended on food, vouchers and hampers in Waterford, and that represented a 25 per cent increase on the previous year.
“And the anecdotal, well it’s not even anecdotal at this stage, we already know that we have spent more on that front this year – with one of our conferences here in the city, the Holy Family, telling us they’re going to need way more than last year ahead of Christmas given the level of need that’s out there.”
While ‘VdeP’ fuel donation expenditure fell by 10 per cent last year, largely due to a mild winter, the Society’s investment in education during 2014 rose to €100,000, a 10 per cent increase on the 2013 figure.
“And education has just gone out through the roof this year,” Mr O’Neill stated. “The conference had to stop twice (during the year) because we ran out of money, and we’ve heard similar stories in Wexford and Laois.”
Waterford acts as the Regional Headquarters for the Society’s South East Region, one of eight VdP regions in the State, and also takes in Kilkenny, Wexford, Carlow and Laois.
The level of desperation facing VdeP clients has, according to Mr O’Neill, seen some seek the cash to cover the €55 cost of the National Car Test.
Both he and Waterford Area President Michael Curran added that the Society has also experienced an increased demand for washing machines in 2013 and 2014, supplying 24 in both years to needy families.
“We’ve even covered the cost of someone’s car tax,” Mr Curran. “In one particular instance, we helped a mother of four whose house was about to be repossessed, she was sent to prison for not being able to pay the car tax, the husband was gone and she was living in a rural area.
“The car was probably even more important to her than food – she’d have had no way of getting her children to school without her own transport – you have to judge each case individually.”
According to VdeP statistics, one in 11 Waterford households sought the Society’s assistance in 2013. A year later, this rose to one in nine, and all the indications suggest that this “alarming statistic” will have risen again come the end of 2015.
David O’Neill added: “We’ve had no robust job creation in Waterford, let’s face it, for all the talk about the Action Plan for Jobs and the noise which Richard Bruton has made on that front.
“People, on the ground in Waterford, are still hurting, and hurting badly, despite all this talk of us being out of the recession, that we’re flying it, that there’s going to be €2 billion in additional Corporation Tax coming in and all that. But we’re really not seeing the recovery in Waterford or the south east – it’s not here yet.”
With church gate collections down, reflecting the decline in mass attendances, in a bid to boost funds, Waterford’s Vincent de Paul now operates four shops in the city (Henrietta Street, Railway Square, Lisduggan and Michael Street) with another to open in Tramore over the next few months.
Michael Curran added: “We’ve got the shops in place, we’ve got a new recycling facility at the Six Cross Roads which will also feature our relocated Headquarters (currently at Ozanam Street) and we’ve got tremendous goodwill from the people of Waterford. The shops have proven a great model; it’s local people donating clothes, books and other goods, which are in turn being bought by local people, so it’s a real win-win for the community.”
Said David O’Neill: “Of course, we’d love if we weren’t as busy, we wish there wasn’t as great a need for us as there is, but we’re doing great work. This is a volunteer-led effort and we’ve got some really fantastic people who’ve come together under our umbrella to help those who need help. We’ve had some great success stories, particularly when it comes to third level education, from households who never before had anyone completing third level, so we are making a positive and worthwhile difference, something which we’re privileged to do.”
Waterford Saint Vincent de Paul will launch its Christmas Appeal on Thursday week next, November 19th.