THE president of the St Vincent de Paul society in Fermoy has revealed the depth of the financial crisis facing cash-strapped local families - with many parents barely able to feed their own children.
Speaking to The Corkman this week, Sheila Flynn said the number of families seeking help from the society in 2012 has jumped by over 60% compared to last year.
"We've also experienced a huge jump in the number of people seeking our help over the Christmas period. Last year we helped more than 350 families during the festive season, a number that is set to rise above 400 this year," said Sheila.
"In 2011 we distributed more than €160,000 in food and fuel vouchers and other assistance. While figures for this Christmas have yet to be finalised, that figure for 2012 is set to rise considerably," she added.
Sheila said that over the past few weeks members of the society have visited homes across the region, seeing at first hand how the recession has impacted on increasingly desperate families.
"We have come across situations where people cannot afford to heat their homes or even put a proper meal on the table. I have seen instances where children are going to school without any breakfast and with only a bag of crisps for their lunch," she said.
"In turn there are people seeking our help this year who would have donated money and other items to us last year.
"I lived through the post war depression during the 1950s and can honestly say that things are far worse now than they were then. I have never seen things so bad."
Sheila said that while she understood the present government had inherited an economy that was in meltdown, they had done little to help out those who need it the most.
"What they should now be doing is targeting the people who can afford it the most. For example, the huge pensions that are being paid out to people are obscene.
"It is apparent to me that the gap between those who have and those who have not is getting wider and more pronounced," she said.
"This has in turn led to a huge social divide that groups like us are trying to fill. To me it is totally unacceptable that so many people have so little, and so few people have so much."
Sheila said that despite the general air of despondency out there, she has been amazed by the generosity that people have shown to those less fortunate than themselves.
"One Sunday we issued an appeal at every mass in Fermoy and the response from people, many of whom are struggling themselves, was astounding," she said.
"Were it not for their generosity, a lot of families within the greater Fermoy area would be looking towards a desperately bleak Christmas this year," said Sheila.