Reviewed By Pamela Kirkpatrick - Senior Accredited NCS & Registered Member MBACP Adv. Dip.
Spotlight - St Vincent De Paul
12 March 2023
The current cost of living crisis affects us all in some way but the impact is especially felt by those of us who are already struggling to make ends meet.
The current crisis along with issues such as the lack of affordable housing, low wages and increase in food and heating costs has created an even bigger crisis situation for people who were already struggling.
Saint Vincent De Paul (SVP) was founded in 1844 by Frederic Ozanam. He began to visit those who had fallen on hard times and offer help with food, clothing and friendship. It is now the largest voluntary charitable organisation in Ireland.
The SVP Mission statement explains the aim of the charity:
“ Our mission seeks to eliminate the causes of poverty”
The SVP has over 10,000 + members throughout Ireland.
I have a family connection with the SVP as my Dad volunteered with them and growing up it was a natural thing to want to help with. I found that my favourite part of volunteering was visiting people at home and having a chat, providing a listening ear and offering my time as well as practical support.
The SVP can also help with advice on filling in application forms for benefits and advice, and if they cannot assist they will find the correct organisation to help. They would work closely with The Housing Associations as well as The Citizens advice Bureau and Women’s Aid.
I remember visiting a client over a period of weeks, and as well as offering friendship, we provided help with groceries and heating. I was able to attend a meeting with her at The Citizens Advice Bureau, and provide assistance with filling in paperwork for help with benefits.
I have also visited clients who found themselves homeless and living in a hostel or at a friends house. SVP can often be one of the first organisations that call out to see the person face to face and offer help and support. My favourite part of it was definitely providing that face to face support and building that rapport with the clients. I feel my time spent volunteering informed my decision to train to become a counsellor.
I contacted the local branch here in Bangor and spoke to some of the volunteers.
Brian Reilly shared with me his experience and why he volunteers with the SVP.
“I have been a member of SVP for quite a few years now, and I have watched an ever changing demographic of people contacting us for help. As everyone knows with the cost of living crisis we find ourselves in, the need for help has never been greater.
When I first started volunteering we used to get on average 5 requests for help per week, nowadays its more likely to be 25 calls. The help required may be for help with electric, gas or heating. We also assist with food vouchers and food hampers. We help those who might not be able to afford to get a washing machine fixed or a cooker or fridge freezer which may have given up the ghost. We also help with furniture, school uniforms, and presents at Christmas.
SVP is not affiliated to the government or any other body. The money we use to help those in need come from our church door collections taken up every week after mass. We also get some who may bequeath us something in their wills, as well as generous businesses.
We have to make this money go round, so sometimes we just cannot help some as much as we would like too. None of us know how our circumstances can change and it's not always for the better. I recall my very first night at training for SVP and the first thing we are told is DO NOT BE JUDGEMENTAL, which is very much easier said than done.
I have taken this with me through my life, and it definitely has helped me be more empathetic, don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint, far from it, but I try to be the best person I can be. Sometimes in life we need to take a step backwards and see how fortunate we actually are. It is so sad to see in this world how hate seems to be more prevalent, we are too quick to see bad in people.
When we go out to visit our clients I get great satisfaction knowing that I may have helped someone who had no one else to turn to. I can feel elated, but it can also be heart breaking when you see the conditions some people live in. So, if everyone could try to be a bit nicer it would make the world a better place to live in. Don’t look to always blame someone else, make a difference, give someone a helping hand”
I think hearing first hand from a current volunteer highlights the importance and need for this organisation and its volunteers.
What can people expect when they contact the SVP?
The SVP can be contacted by visiting the website - you can fill out a form online with your details and the help that you require.
A volunteer from your local branch will then get in touch. Service users can also call the helpline number 02890351561 and choose to either speak to an operator or leave a message and someone will contact you.
Often the hardest part is to reach out and ask for help. SVP is there with a listening ear and ready to help and support clients who find themselves in need.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) is a Christian, member-led organisation. We believe that everyone should have the means to live a life that reflects the basic human dignity of every person. SVP members are volunteers who provide practical help and support to people who are struggling to manage for whatever reason.