Red Cross appeals to volunteer spirit to put new ambulance on road

Niamh Nolan hears of the fight Waterford Red Cross has made for survival.

WHEN a long-running volunteer organisation makes a last-ditch plea on the airwaves for support to keep it in existence, one wonders if the Irish volunteer spirit is dead.

However, when almost €5,000 floods in just two hours later, it suggests people do have the money to help but can’t afford the time.

Last week the Waterford branch of the Red Cross, an organisation with a local presence for over 60 years, picked up the keys for a much-needed new ambulance after an appeal on local radio netted enough money to temporarily secure it.

However, with just four full-time members, no premises, no storage facility and no new recruits on the books, the radio appeal was a final act of survival by a desperate group.

“It’s very, very sad, we were on the verge of going out of existence in Waterford,” Paddy Scully, acting area director of units explained.

“The volunteer side of things is gone, nobody wants to volunteer anymore,” Mr Scully said. “There was a time when people were begging to come out with us, now we’re shouting for people to come,” he added.

The Red Cross was once a thriving volunteer organisation in Waterford, with around 40 members and units in the city, Dungarvan, Stradbally and in Lismore. These have all disappeared but for the “faithful four” who keep things going, attending sporting events throughout the region and offering a caring hand.

“Our biggest problem is premises, we have made unbelievable attempts to get a permanent home but with no success,” Mr Scully explained. “We’re really operating by phone since our old premises at the military barracks was knocked down,” he said.

A new base would enable the Red Cross to store equipment, conduct first aid classes with cadets and participate in national competitions. Along with the ongoing fundraising drive - the ambulance is not fully paid for - they are launchinga recruitment drive in schools throughout the area, but also welcome people from 20 to 60 who would like to join.

Other voluntary groups in the city are also noticing a dearth of young volunteers in these busy times. Regional administrator of Vincent de Paul in Waterford Ray McDonald said he believes young adults lack the time, rather than the interest in volunteering.

“The difficulty with recruiting young adults is that they are setting up homes and it requires both people to work to service the loan,” he continues. “It’s not that people don’t want to volunteer, they don’t have time.”

St Vincent de Paul runs a hostel and crèche in the city, as well as visitation services for hospitals and for those living alone. While they have a large number of older people volunteering throughout the city and county, recruitment campaigns have failed to attract younger blood into the ranks.

“We would be concerned for the future with the ageing population,” Mr McDonald said. “We’ve run programmes to recruit younger people, but it hasn’t been terribly successful.”

Those who do volunteer are asked to give two to three hours a week to the society and receive training for the work involved.

The Alzheimer Society in Waterford is also experiencing difficulty in getting volunteers for fundraising events and to help out at with activities at its daycare centre.

“To get volunteers would be difficult,” supervisor Patsy Hennessy explained. While the organisation relies on funding from the health board and FÁS for the majority of its work, it also requires the help of volunteers for activities to keep people’s memories active during the day and to give one-to-one attention to patients at mealtimes.

“I think nearly everybody’s working. What you’re getting are adults over 60 doing the helping,” Ms Hennessy added. “We’re managing, but the more help we get the better.”

However, Paddy Scully of the Red Cross believes his group’s fortunes are set to change. Emboldened by the generosity of the public, the Red Cross now hope to re-kindle the traditional volunteer spirit to help them get the numbers to continue with their work.

“We’re not going to give up,” Mr Scully said. “The appeal shows people do want you and for me personally it gives me great satisfaction to know you’ve helped someone,” he added.

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