Over one in four calls for help to the Society of St Vincent de Paul last year were from people who had not previously contacted the charity.
Caroline Fahey, SVP social policy development officer, said the new cries for help were mostly from people who had been struggling for some time to make ends meet, and had become desperate.
The general indication, said Ms Fahey, is that the 35% increase in 2011 in people seeking assistance from SVP is likely to be surpassed this year.
“What we are seeing is the cumulative effect of the recession. There have been cuts to social welfare payments; people have lost their jobs or had their pay or hours cut.
“The fact that 400,000 households, or one in every four homes, are struggling to pay energy bills is an indication of how things have changed for people.”
There has been an 83% increase in calls for help made to the charity since 2009.
SVP offices in Dublin, Cork, Galway and the Mid-West received 88,072 calls for help from people last year, compared to 48,064 two years earlier.
About 60% of the calls are from households with children. Irish nationals make up the majority of callers, with 13% made by migrants.
Almost one in four calls made last year were requests for food, while 16% were made by people wanting help with bills and energy costs.
The average amount for electricity bills recorded by the regional offices last year was €563, while the average gas bill was €510.
Ms Fahey said the number of calls made every month to the SVP’s Dublin office was at a level that used to be only experienced around Christmas time.
In 2010, SVP spent €9.8m on helping people put food on the table; €8.8m was used to help with energy needs and €4.4m on education-related supports.
“The people we help tell us that they need to have hope for the future in order to keep going. If they are to remain hopeful, their opportunities need to be protected, whether it is to engage in education or training or to ensure that their children can stay in school,” said Ms Fahey.
“Thankfully, funding for the SVP remained steady.
“People are giving because they know of others in their local community who are struggling.”
Volunteers with the charity made 150,000 calls to homes in the run up to Christmas.
Because of the shocking increase in people needing support the charity made an urgent appeal for help.
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