Munster charities gear up for Christmas of ‘unprecedented’ demand 

“It can be a really hard, lonely, and reflective time for people who are homeless, they are often thinking of the things they've lost and maybe the family that they're estranged from."
Munster charities gear up for Christmas of ‘unprecedented’ demand 

Miriam O'Brien, Charlie Fellows, and Mairead O'Sullivan of Cork Simon. Picture: Larry Cummins

Munster’s homeless charities are anticipating yet another hectic Christmas season as thousands rely on their services to see them through to the new year.

Countless donations of food, toys, and vouchers are currently being sorted through by volunteers as annual donation campaigns are being rolled out right across the south and beyond.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has seen a huge increase in the amount of people availing of financial support, with one charity telling the Irish Examiner that this year’s demand has been “unprecedented”.

Cork Penny Dinners have just wrapped up their annual FillABus campaign which saw thousands of food and toy donations made last weekend.

The homeless charity, which provided over 10,000 dinners and food hampers to those in need last Christmas, are anticipating a similar figure this festive season.

Volunteer coordinator Caitriona Twomey told the Irish Examiner: “We’re keeping a close eye on the restrictions, and we’ll work around whatever they are on Christmas day.

If people can come to us on Christmas Day, brilliant. We’ll have a wonderful day of food, toys, and music — the whole lot.

“If we can’t do that due to restrictions, we’re geared up to deliver meals like we did last year and ensure everyone gets a hot dinner on Christmas.” 

Bus Éireann teamed up with Penny Dinners once again for the annual FillABus donation drive
Bus Éireann teamed up with Penny Dinners once again for the annual FillABus donation drive

While they cannot take on more volunteers, Penny Dinners are welcoming donations of non-perishable foods, as well as brand-new toys and clothes to their hub on Little Hanover St.

We’re so eternally grateful to the generous people of Cork for their donations, it’s what makes Christmas that bit more special for those who need it most,” said Ms Twomey. 

In Limerick, the Free Dinners Trust will continue to give out food vouchers to those in need right through the festive period.

'The Trust' have not yet been able to resume their meals service from the Limerick Youth Service Cafe due to the pandemic, and are not taking on volunteers.

However, the service still provides over 50 meals every week to those in need through St Vincent de Paul, and donations are always welcome.

Contact 086 8192212 for more information on the Free Dinners Trust and how you can help.

Elsewhere, Novas is preparing up for their annual Christmas Sleep Out which, it is hoped, will go ahead in Limerick City, Tralee, and Thurles on December 17.

The popular event was replaced with a sleep-in last year due to the pandemic, and the Limerick-based charity is calling on the public to get involved by emailing sleepout@novas.ie.

The charity’s annual toy drive provides around 1,100 children in Limerick and surrounding areas with Christmas presents, with Novas’ Una Burns describing toy donations as “a vital intervention for low-income families”.

Thousands of people are relying on charities over the Christmas period
Thousands of people are relying on charities over the Christmas period

“We make sure that all of our clients, the adults and children, wake up with a small present on Christmas morning and a lovely dinner,” she said.

“It can be a really hard, lonely, and reflective time for people who are homeless, they are often thinking of the things they've lost and maybe the family that they're estranged from.

So it's really important that we provide practical and emotional support at this time of year.” 

Saint Vincent de Paul are expecting to receive a record-breaking 200,000 calls by the end of the year, a figure which Paddy O’Flynn, SVP’s regional president for the South-West, said would be “unprecedented”.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, he said: “We’re especially concerned about families who have to make the choice between fuel or food to keep a roof over their heads.” 

SVP services in Limerick receive 250 calls every day from people seeking help, and things have been getting busier in recent weeks.

“Many calls are coming from people who are in desperate need of help paying bills that built up during Covid,” said SVP regional president for the Mid-West Teresa Flynn.

Teresa said that pre-Covid, SVP would have been making house calls right up to Christmas Eve with food and toys, something that has now been replaced with vouchers.

“We try and get families sorted so they can have Christmas in their own homes—  that’s our goal,” said Teresa.

Charities have rolled out their annual donation campaign.
Charities have rolled out their annual donation campaign.

The SVP drop-in centre in Limerick City will be serving up hot meals on the 25th, and are expecting to feed around 300 people this year.

Our volunteers are so vital in ensuring that people are supported over the busy Christmas period, every year I’m astounded by the level of dedication and commitment,” said Teresa.

You can find more information on SVP’s various donation appeals here.

Cork Simon Community, which supports around 1,000 people every year with their services, are once again hoping to raise funds with their annual Christmas Jumper Day.

For the second year running, Christmas will look slightly different for the charity, as they can no longer host a large-scale event on Christmas Day in their emergency shelter due to Covid-19.

 Paul Sheehan at Cork Simon's city centre administration office.
Paul Sheehan at Cork Simon's city centre administration office.

Christmas dinner will still be provided for those in the shelter and anybody sleeping rough, and dinners will be given to those in high-support houses also.

Donations can be made on the Cork Simon website, with Paul Sheehan, the charity’s campaigns and communications manager, telling the Irish Examiner: “The generosity of Cork people knows no bounds, people who run into hard times themselves — it’s really the wind in our sails”.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.

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