By Fiona Lee
It’s sad to hear, but Christmas time is not a happy time for every family in Galway. With the homeless crisis only getting worse, there are more families struggling to get by than ever before. Charity organisations like St Vincent De Paul (SVP) and COPE are working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that they can help as many families as they can, and bring some happiness into the holiday season.
St. Vincent de Paul Galway representative John Toolan spoke to SIN about what their charity does to help the homeless in need during the festive holidays.
“If a family is in temporary accommodation, we would get our volunteers to go visit them if they wish. They would go out in pairs and visit them and assess what their needs will be for Christmas. We get toys donated to us for the children, they’d match that up to the families and bring out all the toys and give them whatever support they need with food too.”
“Come Christmas, we would have our annual appeal where we send envelopes around houses looking for donations. We would get food donated and we’d make up hampers which would be distributed to people in the city, not just homeless people but to those in need.”
“Speaking personally, there just isn’t enough housing, and when the physical accommodation isn’t there it can be very hard.”
“We would refer people over to COPE’s Cold Weather Initiative too, we work with other charities to work out what supports we can all give.”
He emphasised the importance of charities working together to ensure that no one falls through the cracks, and SIN heard the same attitude coming from COPE Galway representative Deirdre O’Connor.
“We would very closely with other charities like SVP. If a family came in who had an exceptional need we would make an individual case to SVP to support them, we’d rally together to make sure people are getting the help they need.”
COPE has many initiatives, appeals and plans set up for both families and individuals over the next few months.
“We got a donation of Elftown tickets for Christmas. We have 70 plus families going. We are in the middle of writing personalised Santa letters, contacting parents to learn what their child’s interests are, so it’s all personalised.”
“We’re aware that not all families can afford ‘big Santy gifts’, so we want to do that for them. We are also accommodating children with disabilities, like autism, so that’s very special for families.”
“We have gotten very generous donations for the Wishing Tree. All children and adults in Galway COPE services will get a gift and a hamper. We’ve tried this year to make the gifts as personal as possible, based on their ages or interests. We could have families with up to eight children, so it’s a lot to undertake. Around 450 people will get a gift this year.”
“Last year we had around 70 families in the COPE services looking for accommodation, this year we will be hitting around 95. It’s increasing all the time, weekly even. Some have families they can visit, but not everyone gets to go home for Christmas, and that’s the difficult one.”
“For me that’s the scary thing; children being impacted by homelessness. Jumping from temporary accommodations, self – catering, never having somewhere to call home or to have friends over to play. The families are incredibly resilient in this horrible climate.”
These charities support those in need but they cannot do that without the support of the public. Toolan and O’Connor told SIN how we can help those in need this Christmas and how helping out need not be a major expense.
“There’s plenty of work to do here in SVP, sorting through toys and food and packing up stuff. We get many transition year students in to help! Also, our annual appeal for donations is in motion at the moment.”
“Donations like food, toiletries and even clothes into the COPE shop are always welcome and needed. Money is helpful, but there’s always so many ways to donate.”
The work being done by charities around Galway is phenomenal and whatever the public can do to support them should be encouraged. Think about those in need and bring some happiness out into our community this holiday season. There’s always a way to help.
Photo by Thomas Quine on Flickr