THE local conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society has been doing extraordinary work within our community for many decades past. This year the society faces many new challenges as Covid 19 restrictions impact on the commercial life of the town and as a consequence on the ability of the St Vincent de Paul members to meet the pressing urgent needs of local families in distress.
The society’s annual Church collection, normally scheduled for the first week of December, will be restricted because of Covid 19. This was always one of the society’s main sources of funds and the expected reduction in donations will be felt in and throughout many local families in need. That is unless the church collection can be supplemented by some other means of collecting badly needed funds.
Athy Lions Club, headed up by its president Brian Dooley, has agreed to help the St. Vincent de Paul Society by supplementing its Christmas food appeal with a separate cash donation appeal. This year the food appeal takes place on Thursday 3, Friday 4 and Saturday December. Unfortunately due to Covid 19 concerns Lions members will not be manning the doors of the local supermarkets as they have done for many years past. Instead, collection bins will be placed at the exit doors of the supermarkets ready to receive donations of non-perishable food items. When the Lions Christmas Food Appeal was first organised the call went out for people to donate food items. This was changed a few years ago to cash donations, but this year the Lions Appeal will revert to seeking donations of non-perishable food items. The collection bins will not be manned but arrangements will be made to collect the donated food items periodically each day.
In addition to the Christmas Food Appeal the Lions Club members will also operate a cash donation point in Emily Square during the three days of the food appeal. This will allow people not shopping in the local supermarkets to make a cash donation to assist the local St Vincent de Paul Society. This Emily Square collection will complement the annual church collection and hopefully between the Christmas Food Appeal collection, the restricted church collection, and the town centre cash collection the loss of revenue for the St Vincent de Paul Society will be kept to a minimum. The Emily Square cash donation point will be manned each day between 10.30am and 4pm by Lions Club members suitably masked and distanced.
The local St Vincent de Paul conference is the oldest association in Athy with a history stretching back even long before the oldest clubs in the town, the Gaelic Football Club or the Rugby Club, were founded. Over the years the society’s members have helped thousands of families in need during times of war and times of economic depression. Now during the current pandemic the society members will be extending help to local families in much the same way St Vincent de Paul members did over 100 years ago when the Spanish Flu came to Ireland and Athy.
The work of the St Vincent de Paul Society extends to every town and parish in Ireland. I have never forgotten an elderly woman I visited as a member of the local St Vincent de Paul branch in Kells, Co Meath in 1967. She lived alone in a small terraced house located in a laneway which ran parallel to the main road leading to the local GAA pitch. We talked for some time and the conversation I had with that frail elderly woman has stayed with me ever since. Indeed, I believe it has subconsciously influenced my attitude to life and to society in so many ways. She was a widow with no children, having married her young boyfriend before he went to war in 1914. He died on a battlefield in France or Flanders – she did not know where and was not aware if his body was ever found or given a Christian burial. A widow for 50 years or more when I spoke to her, I could only imagine the pain of loss she endured throughout her life. There she was, a lonely impoverished figure in a house long condemned, like all the houses in that terrace, since demolished, possibly as part of a slum clearance programme.
That was the first time I became aware of how wars and especially World War 1 impacted on the lives of families in Ireland. It was also the first time I had to face up to the inequalities in a society which saw an elderly woman struggling to live in a world which by all accounts had abandoned her and so many others like her.
The charitable work of the Society of St Vincent de Paul is not confined to fighting poverty. The Society works for social justice and the creation of a more caring society. Even before the Coronavirus pandemic hit Irish society it was estimated that upwards of 700,000 Irish people were living in poverty. For many of those people and others living just above the poverty line Covid 19 swept them deeper into poverty. Many people have lost their jobs and now find themselves struggling to buy food and pay mortgages to keep a roof over their head. The demands on the St Vincent de Paul Society have increased so much over the past few months that there is a great danger that unless funds are secured the society will find it extremely difficult to help families in need.
The Christmas Food Appeal and the cash donation appeal organised by Athy Lions Club members is the opportunity for all of us as members of the local community to help our neighbours and fellow community members in need. For the duration of the Lions Club cash donation appeal I will offer a free copy of my latest book, ******* Eye on Athy’s Past Vol. 4,*********** to any person making a donation of €40 or more. Give your donation to the Lions members in Emily Square on the 3, 4 or 5 December and pick up your free copy of the book.
All donations, no matter how small, will assist the St Vincent de Paul Society to help families in need in our community Apart from the Lions Club organised collections on the 3, 4 and 5 December donations for the local St Vincent de Paul Society can be left throughout the year into the parish church office or handed into the Society’s charity shop Vincent’s’ in William Street.