Among the many Irish organisations that promote worthy causes, perhaps none commands more respect and affection than the St Vincent de Paul Society. And perhaps no visitor is more welcome than the SVP representative at a door behind which may lie many a sad story.
The SVP is everywhere. Its knowledge of conditions "on the ground" is unsurpassed. Early in the present crisis, it noted with alarm the sharp increase in poverty, often dire poverty. It also drew attention to what, for many of the young, was a new phenomenon – middle-class poverty.
Today it launches, in conjunction with this newspaper, a Christmas appeal. Never in recent history has such an initiative been more necessary.
The disasters inflicted on our economy have shrunk incomes in every class and every region. The austerity measures designed to bring recovery have aggravated the pain without, as yet, producing a remedy. The Budget on Wednesday will inflict further cuts in disposable incomes.
But we make this appeal in the full confidence that readers will dig still deeper into what is left in their pockets.
Somebody, proverbially, is always worse off than oneself. Not worse off in terms of inability to afford luxuries; worse off in terms of lacking the necessities of life. The SVP, far more than the general public, knows where real poverty lurks. But most poverty is hidden.
Knowledge of some of this hidden poverty has emerged in a most extraordinary way. Health Service Executive workers, starved of funds even for desperate cases, are sending begging letters to the SVP.
One seeks €1,100 to "deep-clean" the house of a sick and enfeebled woman. To begin to contemplate this woman's predicament would surely melt any heart.
But even more than that, the begging letters illustrate a state of affairs that could have come from Alice in Wonderland.
In the proper and even the natural course, one might expect the SVP to seek funds from the public authorities, not the other way round. The blame belongs directly to the politicians who have failed so dismally to fulfil their basic duties.
Failures at the top cannot be largely, much less fully, remedied by charitable bodies or those who contribute to them. But every donation can make a real impact. Be the amount big or small, he or she can rest assured that the money will be well spent.