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VIDEO: Every call to St Vincent de Paul is a plea for help from someone in need

Every single call is an SOS from a person at the end of their tether - but some problems are easier to solve than others.

"Certainly pet, have we helped you before?" soothes a volunteer over the phone to an elderly lady hoping to be added to the St Vincent de Paul (SVP) list for a turkey and ham.

Other situations linger in the minds of those manning the helplines long after they have hung up their headsets and gone home for the day.

One volunteer tells of a mother (33) with a child aged three and twins aged 18 months who rang seeking financial aid in the last few days. Her husband had walked out when she was three months pregnant with the twins and she has no idea where he is as he has not been in touch.

This will be her last Christmas as she is terminally ill with cancer. During her call she has to pause periodically in order to allow a spasm of pain to pass.

Her main concern is the children and what will happen to them when she dies. She was trying to eat as well as she could to extend her remaining time with them.

The question of how to pay for Christmas is yet another burden for a heartbroken woman already suffering more cruelty than most of us could ever imagine.

Her call went on far longer than the typical SVP rules generally allow. "But how could I tell her that I didn't have time to listen?" said volunteer Brenda Waters.

At the charity's largest unit, the East Region office on Sean McDermott Street in Dublin's north inner city, a team of volunteers takes each call and handles each email with professionalism - but, crucially, with warmth and humanity.

Two emailed pleas for help - one seeking help in paying mounting bills; the other seeking assistance so that there will be something under the tree for the children - are typical of the requests flooding the charity in a Christmas rush.

"I am a lone parent, struggling to get food, gas, ESB for my top-up meter. I'd appreciate if I could get some help. I know there are a lot more worse off than me and I wouldn't normally ask," says the first.

The second explains: "My husband and I were lucky enough to get some help from you last year and we were so grateful. Unfortunately we find ourselves in the same situation this year. There doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. We definitely thought we would be a little bit better off this year but with the property tax introduced, it's put a strain on our finances."

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Since November 3, SVP has had 9,000 calls and Christmas 2014 is shaping up to be even busier than last year.

The Irish Independent has today launched a Christmas Appeal in partnership with SVP. For information on how to donate, see details inset left.

How to donate

1. Go to www.svp.ie or give locally.

2. By cheque. To SVP, PO Box 1234, Dublin 1, made payable to Society of St Vincent de Paul National Council or direct to a regional office; addresses can be found on www.svp.ie.

3. Pay direct to Bank of Ireland, Phibsborough, Dublin 7 to St Vincent De Paul Council of Ireland. A/C Number: 80005599. Sort Code: 90-06-23

4. Call the SVP National Office on 01 838 6990.

In addition to making donations directly, there is an array of options to support the SVP at www.svp.ie/appeal. These include a virtual gift store.


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