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Dublin Bus grants are just the ticket

Established in 2003, the Dublin Bus Community Support Programme rewards the charities around Dublin which are trying to make other people's lives more comfortable and more bearable.

If you ever wondered what happened to all those change receipts that you never bothered going down to O'Connell Street to cash in, this is what they are used for. All the long-term change receipts go into a special account to fund the Dublin Bus Community Support Programme and are making a real difference to people's lives.

Dublin commuters are the ones helping these charities -- many without even knowing it. A trip into town to do a weekly shop, or that bus journey you made to work today, could be helping a community group to survive another week.

The unclaimed change receipts are pooled and then divided into grants of €5,000, €2,000 and €1,000.

These sums can be the difference between survival and closure, creating a few more spaces at a table, and being able to have someone at the end of a phone line to speak to someone who needs help.

It can make the difference between an animal being put down, and a kids' football team being kitted out and entering their local league, or being stuck on the sidelines.

It can change people's lives.

Charities and groups in the greater Dublin area -- any area served by Dublin Bus -- are eligible to apply for the grant and they do so under the following categories;

> Children

> Sport

> People with disabilities

> Older People

> Environment and the local community

> Education -- alcohol, drugs, literacy, and health

Entrants must submit a written proposal as to what they would use the money for and these will be judged by an independent adjudicating panel. A special awards lunch is held annually at which the groups are awarded their grants.

Special ambassador to the programme is Sunderland AFC chairman Niall Quinn, who has supported the initiative since its inception seven years ago.

This year more than 100 charities will receive grants at a special function to be held on September 16.

Over the coming weeks, we will be looking at some of the nominees and finding out what difference a grant will make to their group.

Last year, Choices Befriending the Elderly Service, based in Shankill, were recipients of a €5,000 grant.

Rebecca O'Brien from Choices tells us about their service, and the difference the Dublin Bus grant has made to their lives.

"The befriending service was set up about 15 years ago by a lady called Jenny Storey. She set it up in response to a programme she had seen on RTE about elderly people living in rural isolation.

"Although we are not in a rural area, there are still elderly people in isolation in Dublin so she sent around a questionnaire to the people in the area. The response was overwhelmingly in favour of [setting up] the service.

"The befriending service means 'to be a friend' so we do all the things that you might ask your friend to do. A lot of the clients feel like a burden on their families, or their families have all moved on, so they ring us for help.

"Our service is expanding all the time; when we first started we had about 15 clients, today we have around 60 clients. When the service was first set up there wouldn't have been much central heating so we would do things like set the fire, fill the coal bucket and that kind of thing.

The service has now progressed so that we have a minibus and we can take our clients to hospital appointments, dental appointments or chiropractors appointments. And it's totally free.

"The befrienders are on community employment schemes and mostly training to be carers, and many of the drivers have gone on to become taxi or bus drivers. One of the requirements when we take on befrienders is that they have to be able to drink large amounts of tea!

"Every Friday we have a pension run and a shopping run so the clients come on the minibus and we drive them to collect their pension, then do their shopping and we put their shopping away for them.

"We've had the minibus for a number of years and it kept breaking down; it is driven for about 40 hours a week. Last year it broke down and we found out that we needed €2,000 to repair it. We had no idea how we were going to pay for it; we don't get any funding at all, and raise money through pub quizzes, sky dives and raffles.

"The grant we got from Dublin Bus was a lifesaver. It paid for the repairs to the van and with the money left over we have been able to fund day trips, which we are planning at the moment. The clients couldn't believe it when we got the grant. We were starting to panic as funds were so low we were afraid we might have to shut the service down. The cost of petrol was rising and there was no way to pay for repairs so when Dublin Bus gave us the money, it was a huge relief.

"Over the years we have had some real characters. We lose people all the time and it's heartbreaking. You get so attached, many of them are like your own granny.

"The service means so much to them, too. Many of their children have moved to other countries and their partners have died and our befrienders will visit, read to them and keep them company.

"If our clients are in hospital we visit them and bring them flowers and fruit. We run a bingo night every Tuesday and there are many regulars who go every week.

"The elderly people have often said they don't know what they would do without us.

"We pick them up if they need to go somewhere and we alleviate a lot of their worries and concerns."