Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Volunteer numbers put question mark over future of St. Vincent de Paul in Waterford

L to R: The Very Reverend Dean Maria Jansson, Area President Michael Curran, Mayor of Waterford City and County Cllr. John Pratt, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan.

THE St. Vincent de Paul annual Christmas Appeal was launched last Thursday for 2019. Speaking of the continued need for the services of the St. Vincent de Paul in the community were Mayor of Waterford City and County Cllr John Pratt, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan and the Very Reverend Dean Maria Jansson of Christ Church Cathedral.

Cllr Pratt spoke earnestly of the “huge comfort” provided by the St Vincent de Paul at all times of the year but especially during Christmas “when mental health is of particular concern”.

He highly commended the many volunteers who dedicate their time towards improving the lives of others. Volunteer numbers have dropped from 300 in the last number of years to sit at a worrying figure of 143. Concern was expressed across the room regarding the future of the St Vincent de Paul in Waterford if the volunteer numbers do not return to previous figures. Unemployment in Waterford stands at 18.8% currently, meaning that the calls for assistance received will remain at a high figure.

Reverend Dean Maria has a long standing connection to the Christmas Appeal, with Area President Michael Curran commenting, “Christmas without Dean Maria would be like Christmas without Santa”.  She spoke strongly against the housing conditions in some of the rental properties in Waterford City, calling them “unconscionably bad. They are damp and dark and fiercely expensive”.

She credited the work of the 143 volunteers as meeting these conditions head-on, “Two weeks ago, I met a family in my parish who have fallen on hard times. Without the Friday evening food parcel from the St Vincent de Paul, that family of five could not be sustained for the week”.

A quirk of fate, she reminded the room, can make anyone homeless and “one, two, three, you lose everything”. Figures show that a donation from St Vincent de Paul, can sometimes be enough to stop families slipping into long term poverty.

In 2018, the WLR “Be a Little Star” campaign raised €83,000 for the Christmas Appeal, with the Lions Club donating a further €60,000 worth of hampers. Over 600 toys for children were made possible through the Cartamundi Giving Tree in George’s Court. The question was asked “Without this help, I wonder what kind of Christmas these families would have had?”

Area President Michael Curran offered the kind of reality that brought the room to a quiet, when he said “We have created new campaigns which tell the story of young people missing out on the normal parts of life that most of us take for granted, like having the resources to go on a school trip or being able to take their exams. We know from experience that when young people miss out on normal activities like this, it can have a very negative impact on their lives. It can take away their childhood bit by bit – and when enough bits are taken away, it can take away their future.”

The St Vincent de Paul society provide assistance all year round but in the lead-up to Christmas, parents are under severe strain due to commercialism, with the Christmas season seeming to start earlier every year. Michael Curran added, “poverty in Ireland can take many forms”, those who seem to present to their neighbours as “well-turned out” are often struggling silently.

Volunteers for home visitation, hospital visitation and all round assistance are urgently required. A commitment of three hours per week is asked for.

Area President Michael Curran took the opportunity to announce his resignation as Area President following a term of five years. He referred to a comment made by President Michael. D. Higgins recently, “Despite all of the technological advances, human contact is something that defines us. When a person is in despair and at their lowest, human contact is more important than ever. A core strength of the Society of St Vincent de Paul is that most importantly, you give the gift of time.”

For more information on volunteering, contact 051 350725 or email [email protected] The annual fundraiser will take place in the city centre from November 21-24 with Church collection on November 30 and December 1.

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