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Dublin: 14 °C Monday 16 September, 2019

'She moved food around the fridge so it looked full': One Irish mother's story

A telephone team member at St Vincent de Paul describes the difficulties facing some families in Ireland.

Linda Kenny answers calls for St Vincent de Paul. Here, she shares her experiences of the pressures facing some families in Ireland in the run-up to Christmas.

I HAD A recent first-time call from a woman whose story really touched my heart. When I answered the phone, I could hear the hesitancy in her voice. I could sense it had taken a lot for her to ring me. I had to persuade her, gently encourage her to tell her story. She said it had taken her 18 months to make this phone call.

My heart nearly stopped to think that this woman suffered in silence for 18 months. Because she is so proud and she didn’t want anyone to know how badly off she is. She lives in a rural area, she said that she was a pillar of the local society and is well known for her involvement with the community.

‘So upsetting’

She works part-time, and her husband is full-time. But they have this house with a big mortgage which is now in negative equity. So they were forced to move. And her eldest daughter, a teenager, suffers from health issues. They do not have a medical card and so they started getting more and more into debt with her medical bills.

Source: jacopast

But there was one thing that really struck me from what she said, which I thought was so upsetting. Sometimes, to make it look like the food was lasting, she would move it around in the fridge. She would never put anything on top of each other. So when the children opened the fridge it looked like they had plenty of food.

That’s someone who is not on social welfare and she is really struggling, but was afraid to ask for help. It’s very important people know that SVP is for everyone. Because of our kind supporters, volunteers were able to visit this woman. They gave her food vouchers to keep the fridge full. She didn’t want constant help, she just needed a hand up.

One warm room

I get a lot of upsetting calls, but there’s always one or two that will stick with you. In the run up to Christmas at the moment it would primarily be fuel. As the weather gets colder, people would request fuel, logs, briquettes, that sort of thing where they don’t have to turn on their heating – especially if they’re on a meter, because if they’re on a meter and they haven’t the money to top it up, they’re without hot water in some cases. But if they’ve one warm room, at least everyone can sit in that room.

Source: sk8geek

Most of the year, we manage between 150 and 200 calls per day in our East Region office – that’s from Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow. Then it starts increasing dramatically from August onwards in relation to back to school. In that month we can average up to 300 calls per day.

By the time it gets to November and December that increases again to anything from 300 to 500 calls a day, or around 10,000 in the month. Last year in these two months, we took in 22,000 calls alone.

Mental health

Sadly there’s been an increase in first-time callers this year. They would be the most upsetting. We’ve noticed an awful lot of requests around mental health as well – there might be mental health issues with the person who was the chief earner of the family, and has suffered a breakdown or is out of work. That has definitely increased this year.

I think the satisfaction for me is knowing that the person has made the phone call. I hate to think of anyone suffering in silence. And believe it or not you can always smile down a phone. You mightn’t necessarily see that person but if that person can get a warmth from your voice and a warmth from you, that can make all the difference to them.

Based on a true story from a family helped by SVP’s East Region Office. Names and some details have been changed for confidentiality. 

To learn more about the people St Vincent de Paul have helped, click here. To make a donation, click here. And remember, your ‘yes’ can last a lifetime.

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