Making your charity donations count
For those who want to give back this Christmas, Tanya Sweeney brings you a practical guide to supporting people in need
There's been an awful lot to grumble about in the world in 2016, and grumble we did. But this year has not only been a catastrophic time for society, it has also been somewhat unkind to Irish charities, too. The behaviour of a few organisations has irreparably affected the not-for-profit sector, with people becoming more sceptical about where their donations to charity are going.
"If any charity is worth their salt, they will have their public accounts available for you to read online or you can request a copy," explains Catriona Loughran of Concern. "Good governance is very important to ensure a charity sustains its reputation."
For those who want to give back in a more direct way this Christmas, here's everything you need to know about making those donations count.
If you want to help… Syrian or international refugees
Concern runs a gift campaign that allows members of the public to buy gifts for children living in conflict zones or poverty. "People can buy emergency kits such as blankets for babies and food to get them through the cruel winter," says Loughran.
Trocaire offer a range of gifts: donors can support Middle Eastern refugees for €65, provide safe medical care during childbirth in Somalia (€100) or sponsor a budding female entrepreneur in Ethiopia (€250).
Over at GOAL (goal.ie), meanwhile, Christmas gifts can be picked up for as little as €3.95, or purchased in memory of a loved one (up to €100). Oxfam Ireland welcome donations to their many shops nationwide (see oxfamireland.org for details of local shops).
"We have an urgent need for good quality clothing and shoes, bags and accessories, jewellery, books, music, homewares, soft furnishings, wedding dresses and furniture," says Oxfam's Sorcha Nic Mhathuna. "The money raised by Oxfam shops is used in three ways: emergency responses like the Syria crisis, development projects that lift people out of poverty and campaigning that gives a voice to the vulnerable."
If you want to help… the elderly
There are a number of ways the public can help an older person this Christmas. "Calling by an older person's house to say hello, ensuring they have enough food, medication and heat, bringing them out for a drive or to a social event and giving them a hand with their shopping," says Sean Moynihan of ALONE. The charity has a year-round Befriending Volunteer service (call 01 679 1032 for more details).
Over at Age Action, donating to one of their five stores (in Dublin, Dun Laoghaire, Cork and Monaghan, see ageaction.ie) is the most effective way to help, says Justin Moran of Age Action. "The shops are our most successful way of raising money for our services like computer training for older people and carrying out DIY jobs in the home for free," he adds.
If you want to help… victims of domestic violence
Many women's refuges are independently run and you need to ring them in advance of offering a donation. Clothes, toiletries and children's toys are often needed at these refuges. Find your nearest one at womensaid.ie/services.local.html. "We also provide Dunnes Stores vouchers for the women we are supporting in our one-to-one service as we believe they are best placed to know what they need to spend the vouchers on to support their families over Christmas," says Christina Sherlock at Women's Aid. To donate a voucher, call 01 678 8858.
If you want to help… the homeless
The Simon Community accepts warm clothing and sleeping bags, as well as Christmas presents that can be given to residents on Christmas morning (see simoncommunity.ie for details on how to donate).
Unsurprisingly, practical items are in great need across the country when the mercury starts to drop. "Hats, gloves and scarves fly off the shelves here," says Patrick Ferrity of Merchant's Quay Ireland. "We also need a lot of brand new socks and jocks, and warm clothing for both men and women - 20pc of our clients are female. Shaving equipment and toiletries like shampoo and body wash are also very useful donations." Donations can be dropped or delivered to MQI's head office at 24 Merchant's Quay, Dublin.
Over in Focus Ireland's Beloved Stores (in Dublin, Cork, Kildare and Waterford), donations of clothing, jewellery, homewares, linen, books, CDs and toys are welcome and will be used to help people who are homeless or in danger of losing their homes.
The Capuchin Day Centre also suggests members of the public can donate baby food and nappies, as the numbers of homeless families in Dublin continue to escalate. Donate at the Capuchin Day Centre, 29 Bow Street, Dublin 7.
If you want to help… Irish children in need
Barnardos is running the Barnardos Toy appeal with GLS Parcelshops. "Every Christmas, Barnardos needs gifts for children of all ages, from babies through to teenagers," says Conor Grogan of Barnardos. "We ask that all gifts donated to the GLS Toy Appeal are new, unwrapped and worth approximately €10. The charity has a handy gift guide on its website (barnardos.ie/toyappeal) to help shoppers choose age-appropriate toys and gifts."
Elsewhere, St Vincent de Paul (svp.ie) has a number of initiatives that the public can get involved in. Toys, educational items, arts/crafts gifts will be given directly to families, while slippers, socks, ties, gloves and books are welcome for hospital and nursing-home patients. SVP also offers a shopping list of non-perishable items for their Food Appeal. These can be dropped into SVP hostels or resource centres, but SVP recommends checking with the hostel or centre in advance to ensure the most appropriate gift can be made.
While the ISPCC isn't in a position to accept toys or other items, volunteering on Childline is an option. "Last year, 543 service volunteers donated over 65,690 hours to the ISPCC to enable us to run our services during 2015," says ISPCC's Sue Murphy. "We couldn't do this important work without them. These volunteers work across a range of our services, including Childline, mentoring and advocacy."
And if you want to donate unwanted gifts after Christmas...
Crosscare will redistribute unwanted Christmas presents to young people living in care and others in need. Last year, hundreds of young people in homeless and emergency accommodation received gifts donated to Crosscare (crosscare.ie).
Gifts can be brought to the crib at St Mary's Pro Cathedral in Dublin until the first week of January. Crosscare also run a number of food banks in Dublin and Wicklow, and need foods (particularly UHT milk, sugar, juice, soup, pasta sauce, tea, coffee and rice) from donors year-round.