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Volunteers at heart of community drive to help old and vulnerable

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Support: Community volunteer Amy Deacon collects a prescription with Garda Sgt Paul Kealy from pharmacist Pauline McAlea at McCartan’s pharmacy in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo: Mark Condren

Support: Community volunteer Amy Deacon collects a prescription with Garda Sgt Paul Kealy from pharmacist Pauline McAlea at McCartan’s pharmacy in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo: Mark Condren

Support: Community volunteer Amy Deacon collects a prescription with Garda Sgt Paul Kealy from pharmacist Pauline McAlea at McCartan’s pharmacy in Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo: Mark Condren

Gardaí, the local GAA, supermarkets and pharmacies in Maynooth have joined local volunteers to help older people or those in self-isolation during the Covid-19 crisis.

And Zendesk, a tech company based in the Kildare town, has made its software available for free so volunteers can coordinate deliveries of food, medicine and fuel to those who can't leave their homes.

Older people or those in self-isolation can phone their supermarket or pharmacy, place an order and pay over the phone. The shop or chemist contacts volunteers through Zendesk, who then arrange a delivery.

There are now 132 local volunteers involved and all of the supermarkets and pharmacies in Maynooth have signed up.

Members of the local GAA club and local gardaí have also offered to help.

Naoise Ó Cearúil, a local Fianna Fáil councillor who works at Zendesk, helped to set up the community team.

He worked with Anne Birchall, who runs the Maynooth Notice Boards Facebook page. Ms Birchall contacted the local senior citizens' committee and Meals on Wheels to offer the help of local volunteers.

"There isn't a huge demand at the moment, but we are expecting it to kick in by the end of next week," Mr Ó Cearúil said.

"The supermarkets in Maynooth are still doing deliveries, but for older people who aren't online that can be hard. We've given everyone mine and Anne's phone number, so they can contact us as well."

He said that Zendesk had donated software that helps volunteers to "essentially triage" all of the contacts that they get from people who need help. The group stays in contact with pharmacies and supermarkets to make sure the right delivery is going to the right person.

All volunteers also follow rules about social distancing, leaving deliveries on doorsteps and standing back when the person answers the door.

Volunteers and those using the service are also advised to rub down bags with hand sanitiser.

"Older people are far more savvy than people give them credit for. They all have bank cards and a lot of them have smartphones. We just have to watch out for the ones who maybe are not as tech savvy," Mr Ó Cearúil said.

Hundreds of thousands of people across the country are continuing to offer help both locally and nationally to those affected by Covid-19.

Gardaí in Limerick yesterday delivered fuel and medicine to an older man who had no transport. In a tweet, officers said that the force was available to help anyone across the country who might need it.

"Don't be afraid to pick up the phone and call us if you need help," they said.

Meanwhile, a fund that is giving €500 grants to artists in Dublin has appealed for further donations after it was overwhelmed with requests for help.

The Civic Theatre in Tallaght raised €23,875 in four days for Irish artists who, already low-paid, are now facing hardship due to the volume of work that has been cancelled during the Covid-19 crisis.

The theatre said it received 400 applications within nine hours of the fund being set up. To help everyone that applied, it would need €200,000.

The theatre is now trying to raise at least a further €50,000.

"We hope through this fund to be a bright spot in worrying times," said Niamh Honer, marketing manager at the Civic Theatre.

"We have seen in recent days the importance of the arts in providing hope and distraction as communities virtually come together to enjoy music, share live streaming experiences or get involved in art classes and workshops.

"The applications have far exceeded the fund so we are appealing for more donations to help provide immediate support."

Irish Independent