St Vincent de Paul struggling as more middle-class families now seeking aid
'WE can't do it alone.' That's the message from St Vincent de Paul this Christmas as it struggles to keep up with growing demand for its services.
The country's largest, voluntary, charitable organisation, the SVP has already this year responded to over 200,000 calls made by families or individuals crippled by their current situations.
This figure, now at an all-time high, has risen year on year since 2006, when 46,000 calls to the SVP national helpline were registered.
This figure has escalated annually both at a regional and national level, with the Dublin area alone seeing a rise from 17,000 calls in 2006 to close to 75,000 in 2013.
This year it will make a total of 400,000 visits to homes nationwide by the time January 1, 2014, rolls around.
"As soon as the Government's austerity programme was introduced, the problems began to expand," said Tom MacSweeney, National Vice-President with a long association with the SVP.
"Over the past 18 months in particular, our local parish units that visit families have witnessed first-hand the pressure put on people due to reduced income."
With Christmas around the corner, the Irish Independent has partnered with the SVP to ask readers to donate to the organisation so it can continue to provide vital services to those in desperate need.
Over the coming week, the Irish Independent will shed light on some of the key issues facing the charity and how it meets those daily challenges.
The inability to pay utility bills and education fees, or the failure to heat a home due to the reduction in social welfare payment, or loss of business for the self-employed, are among the many factors that have taken their toll on families.
And hunger is one of the main reasons people dial the national helpline, with regions such as Limerick and Cork recording a 25pc and 30pc swell respectively for pleas from parents to feed their children.
"There have been a large volume of calls for food parcels, something we would not have seen in a long time, and it is across all classes," said Mr MacSweeney.
"We are also [seeing] a prominent rise in calls from middle-class families, traditionally the people who are paying for everything and getting nothing in return. That is occurring more and more often now."
Mr MacSweeney also believes a frightening pattern is beginning to emerge and that inter-generational poverty is developing at a rapid pace.
Some families that previously received aid from the charity but since managed to survive independently have returned to the SVP resource centres for help. "It is a very worrying aspect of what will be in the year ahead."
There are a number of ways to donate to the SVP.
It is also encouraging companies, schools or organisations to join the St Vincent de Paul "Giving Tree" and provide gifts for the underprivileged.
To create your own tree all you have to do is:
* Order special SVP gift tags from your local office.
* Put up a Christmas tree in the office.
* Hang the gift tags on the tree to transform it into a Giving Tree.
* Ask everyone to take a tag from the tree.
* Everybody buys a suitable gift or gift voucher for the person on their tag.
* Place it unwrapped under the tree or at a designated collection point.
* SVP volunteers then distribute these gifts in your local community in time for Christmas.