A WOMAN wrote to the local Society of St Vincent de Paul recently to ask for help. Her two children, she explained, needed coats and shoes for the winter, and she hasn’t lit the fire for the past two months because she doesn’t have the money.
“I have struggled many a time with food and bills, but not being able to clothe my children or keep them warm breaks my heart,” she wrote. “Christmas is around the corner and my kids will get nothing from me as I can’t afford it. I dread their faces that morning. I really don’t know where else to turn.”
And this, said local Vincent de Paul president Liam Heffernan, is happening all over Kilkenny.
“People come to us for assistance with coal, fuel, education, car repairs, electricity bills, gas bills – just about every facet of life,” he said. “Sometimes they come just for advice, their problems are so vast.”
On the positive side, he said, the people of Kilkenny have always been generous in their support for the charity – and they will have several chances to do so next week during St Vincent de Paul Week, including the Mayor’s Gala Christmas Concert in the Watergate Theatre on December 9.
There will also be a church gate collection in aid of St Vincent de Paul that weekend.
Every euro will help, said Mr Heffernan, particularly as two of the city’s four conferences are financially depleted too – a change for Kilkenny, which has always been self-sufficient without having to rely on Dublin, he pointed out.
Yet, as with those who are assisted by the charity, he is confident that help will come. The main thing, he said, is that anyone in need will not hesitate to ask Vincent de Paul for help. And in addition to the contact information for each city parish being available in the charity’s Fred’s Fashions shop in the Butts and in the local parish newsletters, a new local email address is also now up and running – firstname.lastname@example.org – for anyone wanting to contact them.
Particularly coming up to Christmas, Mr Heffernan said, no child should go without a Christmas present.
“Out message is that people should not panic with the bright lights and frenzy of shopping – they should not spend money that they can’t afford,” he said. “If there are people who need money for children’s presents, contact us. We will be in a position to help.”
Mr Heffernan appeals to those who are short of money to come straight to St Vincent de Paul and to avoid money lenders, or “bookmen”.
“We have found lately, having surveyed all of our clients in one conference, that a scourge on families is money lenders,” he said. Anyone involved in borrowing at unrealistically high interest rates, he said, will quickly come into trouble.
And money trouble can happen unexpectedly, he noted.
“People on social welfare, for example, if everything goes absolutely okay, you can get by,” he said, “but if there is any sort of illness, or maybe a death in the family, it tips the balance. And if they go towards the money lenders, a huge portion of their income is swallowed up immediately and it is very difficult to survive in those situations.”
Another difference the society is seeing in the past couple of years is the people coming for help from all walks of life.
“The numbers have multiplied, and the types of people coming in have definitely changed. It’s no longer people who were in the system for years,” Mr Heffernan said. “We have professionals, nurses, people in the legal profession, civil servants, people who are unemployed. It just covers the whole spectrum of employment situations.”
The change, he said, “is that whatever reserves people had over the years are gone. People were trying to use their redundancy money or whatever they may have had saved over the years, stretching it out, but now those reserves are exhausted.”
The local Society of Vincent de Paul’s reserves do continue to be supported, Mr Heffernan said, and another letter he received recently partly illustrates why.
The letter was sent from Kilkenny native Judge Peter Smithwick, a member of the Order of the Friendly Brothers of St Patrick, an organisation whose ethos is to help those in need. Initially a Protestant group, it now encompasses Catholics and others as well, and this idea of inclusion was one reason they decided to make a donation to the Society of Vincent de Paul.
“They gave to us because they feel St Vincent de Paul doesn’t discriminate as to who they give their money to. They give to Protestants as much as to those with no religion at all,” Mr Heffernan said. The society will give – whether in the form of a pair of shoes, a bag of coal, or assistance in restructuring a debt – to anyone they can.
The Mayor’s Gala Christmas Concert in aid of the St Vincent de Paul Society will take place in the Watergate Theatre on December 9 at 8pm featuring a variety of local talent. Tickets cost €15 and are available from the box office on 056 7761674.