AFTER she saw fuel tanks upturned to drain that last drop and children going to bed fully clothed in order to keep warm, Patricia Gleeson knew she could never walk away from volunteering.
The 42-year-old is one of 18 volunteers for the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, a town among the worst affected in the country since the recession hit.
Between now and Christmas, the volunteers will visit 500 families in the area.
With four healthy children and a general feeling that life was going her way, Patricia decided it was time she gave back to the community, and went to her local SVP centre 10 years ago.
As time progressed and the circumstances of many around the country worsened, she devoted more and more time to the charity.
She now spends seven days a week making house calls to people in need of SVP's help.
"It's a commitment, but it would be so tough to step back from what I've encountered and return to a life without SVP," she says.
"You have to be on the ground and feel their cold; once you do that you know you can never step away again."
As Christmas approaches, the volunteers are working their way through local cases referred to them by the SVP, which has taken a record 200,000 calls so far this year.
The Irish Independent has partnered with the SVP and is appealing to our readers to give the charity whatever help they can. While times are tough for everybody, they are tougher yet for thousands of vulnerable families, some of whom cannot heat their homes or provide food for their children.
"It's very frightening that the demands we face on a daily basis are only getting greater," Patricia says. "One family I came across had broken up the furniture in their home for firewood."
Patricia is one of the unsung 11,000 volunteers giving up their time and effort to make a difference. Though training is provided, she said nothing could have prepared her for the gut-wrenching feeling when she began visiting homes.
"You can't help but get emotionally involved, it's overwhelming. But there is no better reward than knowing you can make a difference in people's lives in a vital way, and that's why donations are so important – that we can go out in the community with food vouchers, fuel or clothing."
As calls come in on the national helpline, they are disbursed to the SVP's 13 regional offices and requests for assistance are taken up by the army of volunteers, on call day and night. However, even though many kindly and freely give up their time to help in SVP's cause, there are areas that are still struggling to meet demand.
Kieran Stafford, the national vice-president for home visitations, says that recruitment will be high on the agenda going into 2014. "Home visitation is at the core of what we do and we badly need new members, particularly in the large populated areas," he says.