Motley Editor-In-Chief Dan Webb and Features Editor Méabh Lonergan sit down with two of Cork’s most dedicated charities to discuss the work they do coming up to Christmas, and all year round
The Society of St Vincent De Paul
Here’s a name we are sure quite a lot of us have known ever since we were kids. The Society of St Vincent De Paul is the biggest and oldest charity in the country, with over 10,000 members nationwide. Most people first come into contact with SVP when they are in primary school, as the group is famous for its annual food drive where every school in the local parish collects non-perishable goods to be distributed amongst those in need throughout the community. However, that’s not the only thing the society provides to members of our community.
Recently, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Gerry Garvey, the regional co-ordinator for the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul in the South-West region covering all of Co. Cork and Kerry. Gerry began by emphasizing that the ethos of the society is to “seek out those who are in need, and see what support we can give them.” This is a mission which is taken to heart by all members of the Society, each of whom play a different role in offering support. The Society realize that when dealing with those in need one of the most important things one must do is ensure that person’s dignity is respected.
Gerry tells us about how SVP is one of the last charities in Ireland that has the privilege of getting to visit people in the comfort and safety of their own homes. This is a crucial part of SVP’s approach to helping people, as Gerry puts it, “when you’re having a little chat with someone and they feel comfortable in their own home, they will divulge other problems they have been having.” In this way, if the person is experiencing problems or financial difficulties, the society can step in and, with the person’s permission, act as an advocate on their behalf. The Society also works in association with other groups such as MABS (Money Advice and Budgeting Scheme) to help people to develop stability and also to develop the skills to be self-sufficient once again.
The Society provides people with services that help to satisfy short-term living needs i.e. heat, food and electricity. However, the Society also puts a strong emphasis on helping the person to build on their own skill set, to help break the cycle of poverty and move towards full self-sufficiency. Gerry says education is at the centre of their initiatives “You could support someone with a voucher for €30 a week and they could still be relying on that in 20 years time. If you can support someone to get a decent qualification, then they are near enough guaranteed a decent job”.
To help in this effort, the Society have set up a third level education support committee here in Cork and Kerry. Last year alone, the society met with many students in need throughout Cork, including students from the UCC community. They spent almost €68,000 supporting people with fees, assistance with accommodation and travel. Following this, the society met with several members of what Gerry refers to as “the squeezed middle,” that group of students who may otherwise find the extra expense of, say, travelling to college an insurmountable challenge to overcome.
So far this year there has been a massive influx of people seeking assistance with education costs from the society. This year alone, the group has invested €220,000, compared to last year’s €68,000, which is very telling of the great need out there for education.
The work that Saint Vincent De Paul does for the people of our own community is fantastic and truly deserving of praise. However, it is important to remember that the work that the Society does is an act of charity, and as such, it relies on donations of time and money from people to continue doing the work they do. If you are wondering how you as a student in UCC can get involved, there are several ways. Firstly you can donate a small amount of money to SVP via their website; this could be as little as €4-€5 a month, and although it seems small, this could go a long way to helping a person in need. If you are interested in getting involved in a more hands-on way, SVP are always looking for volunteers, including our very own UCC Saint Vincent De Paul Student Society.
Gerry ended by saying “we are there to help, and we are there to help anyone who is in need.” They understand just how hard it can be for somebody to reach out for help sometimes. However, if you or a friend do find yourselves in need, the society is always happy to talk to you in confidentiality, and to help to find the best solution for you.
If you or a friend is in need of help, the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul’s doors are always open to you. You can call 021-4270444 , visit www.svp.ie or pop into the Cork offices at No.2, Tuckey Street, Cork.
Cork Simon Community
Every year without fail, the Christmas season provides an opportunity to reflect on everything we have in our lives. Family, friends, food, warmth, comfort; these are all things which many of us take for granted. However, there are many people who do not have access to these basic human needs.
One group that has been dedicated to tackling the harsh reality of homlessness that many people in Cork face is the Cork Simon Community. Founded almost 50 years ago by a group of volunteers, Cork Simon strives to not only help people to escape homelessness but also to give them continued support to ensure they never have to face such a challenge again. Recently, we had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with Sophie Johnson, Research and Communication Coordinator of Cork Simon, to discuss the fantastic work members of the community put in to help those in need throughout our local area.
Sophie started by describing the work Cork Simon Community does for those in need here in Cork. The group’s ethos emphasizes community and making sure everyone has a safe place to go at night. This ethos still remains at the core of Cork Simon’s operations to this day. The only thing that has changed, as Sophie says, is the demand for their services, which has in turn seen an increase in the number of services being offered to match this growing demand.
When Cork Simon was first founded, one of their early initiatives was the soup run, aiming to give those living on the streets a place to come for a cup of tea and a good warm meal while also giving them a space and non-judgemental place to talk to staff. Today, the soup run is still a core part of the group’s activities, more so than ever, as it allows them to get to know those who are sleeping rough in the community, and as such identify their needs.
Sophie tells us that Cork Simon operates on what they call a “housing first” policy where they prioritise getting the person or people into a safe environment, and then providing them with continued support going forwards. This differs greatly to the “staircase” model that many other agencies follow, where the person must satisfy a number of criteria before being considered for support. This truly is a strong marker of the dedication and care the members of Cork Simon have for those in need.
Cork Simon also puts a strong emphasis on education and personal development. As Sophie says, it is a way of giving the person back a sense of self-dependence, pride and identity. It also helps them to slowly work their way to becoming fully self-sufficient, so they will hopefully never have to face the harsh reality of homelessness again. Simon have a dedicated Education/Training and development team who work with individuals year round to help them to develop the skills they need to seek good quality employment.
The community work around the clock, every day of every year, to ensure a better quality of life for a lot of people right here in Cork. One of their busiest times of the year is the annual run up to Christmas. What with the drop in temperatures and the strong emphasis on family and friends, the holiday season can be one of the most difficult for those facing homelessness. Simon work their fingers to the bone and do their very best to help people, however, unfortunately, the rates of people sleeping rough, especially around the holidays, don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Recent figures show that in Cork alone, 119 people are currently living in emergency accommodation, and this marks a 21% increase from the year before.
As such, Cork Simon are under immense pressure to provide people with a level of services which is becoming increasingly difficult to satisfy. Sophie tells us that, most nights, the Simon emergency shelter on Anderson Quay is at maximum capacity, and at over capacity on colder nights, which means that they are unfortunately forced to turn people away. The Simon team are trying their best to fight these challenges, placing mattresses on kitchen floors in an attempt to at least get people off the streets and under the safety of a roof.
The work that Cork Simon Community does for people in our community is incredibly selfless. However the challenges they are facing means they need as much support as they can get. That’s where you all come in, if you are reading this and you are wondering how you can get involved and do your part – there are a number of ways.
Cork Simon have several events happening coming up to Christmas. If your society or class are looking for a way to raise some money for Simon why not organise a Christmas Jumper day? Or if you fancy yourself Ireland’s next music star why not take part in a local Sing For Simon event? For those of you out there with iron lungs and stamina, why not take part in the annual Turkey Trot, taking place at Blackrock Hurling Club on December 12th. Dress up like a turkey and run for charity, what’s not to love? Or join our very own UCC Cork Simon Student Society to see how you can help from right here on campus.
There is also the option of volunteering to help Cork Simon with providing their services, and to help run local fundraising events. Even one or two hours of voluntary work a week would go along way to improve the lives of people living here in our very own community. If you are interested in volunteering, check out www.corksimon.ie or call 021-4321051 for further information.
If you are interested in volunteering or are in need of help, Cork Simon Community always have their door open. You can call 021-4278728, visit www.corksimon.ie or call into their offices at St Nicholas House, Cove Street, Cork.