IT’S everywhere. The impacts of the spiralling costs of food, fuel, electricity, clothes, and more recently, our mortgages, have permeated every facet of people’s lives.
It has plunged more families into poverty and has left others fearing for the future, with near-constant uncertainty over the fragile economy. People are understandably feeling overwhelmed.
But what has also been overwhelming, is the generosity, ingenuity, compassion and resilience of our local communities, some of whom have not taken a break since the start of the Covid crisis.
Over the next few weeks and months, the Herald will shine a light on just some of the many local initiatives which have become a lifeline to so many. From the foodbanks and the big-hearted people who keep them going, to the local schools offering meals and other essentials to their children. And there are many others who are contributing silently under the radar. We want to reflect this positive message of solidarity with those families bearing the brunt of this crisis.
This series of features is also about highlighting the practical and effective help that is available out there for those who do not have enough money to pay the next bill.
Each week on the front page of this newspaper, is an advertisement from the Dungannon-based charity STEP which offers expert advice and help for those worried about their finances. If you are in difficulties, call them now, or some of the other agencies listed on these pages.
Just this week, the long-established charity, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SVP) revealed it is receiving in excess of 2,000 requests for help a week in towns, cities and villages across Ireland.
While that figure is indeed shocking, it is important that people here in our communities across Tyrone continue to reach out for help and that they are reassured that there is a way out of this crisis.
The surge in demand for help has been a major catalyst for the relaunch of a Dungannon-based foodbank.
Formally known as the Reach foodbank organised by the Vineyard Church, the new Dungannon Foodbank is a partnership between Reach and the Trussel Trust which runs hundreds of foodbanks across the UK.
Speaking to the Dungannon Herald on Tuesday, Phil Bailie from Dungannon Foodbank said the amalgamation was in direct response to the growing need.
“In the last five to six years, we have gone from helping around 13 people coming through the door each week, to seeing around 60 to 70 people each week, which is around 200 when you consider their families.
“So that increase has been incredible and we have had to pivot and make the changes to address that need,” said Phil.
“It’s a mix of people we are seeing. From single parents to two parents which are both working and they are having to decide between heating and eating. If we can provide the food then they can keep their homes warm.
“For some people it will be for a short period until they get back on their feet. Others may take a little longer, but there will always be food here for them.”
Phil said there was still very much a taboo around attending a foodbank.
“When people do come, they don’t come bouncing up the hill to get food. When people come, they come with their heads down and they don’t want to make eye contact.
“Nobody wants to be there. Usually it is the last resort, it’s literally when they are hungry and there is no food on the table and they are wondering what to do next.
“There could be some people who do not know about the foodbanks, or that there is help available. But if people need help then people should let them know and they should come along and get that help from us. We will provide for that need and help see them through a tough time.”
Hunger is also haunting homes in Coalisland, where volunteers at the local foodbank are hearing first hand the struggles being faced by families.
But amidst this feverish crisis, the generosity of local school children at Primate Dixon Primary School has provided much needed light in the darkness.
“It was the pupils themselves who decided to hold a ‘bring a tin to school day’, and that was where the collection came from.
“We filled a van and car full of stuff. It was just mind-blowing, we couldn’t believe it. It was actually overwhelming,” said Dympna Heron who helps run the Coalisland Community Foodbank.
“I think it shows that the children are now aware; they now know that there are people within their own communities, who aren’t as well-off as themselves and that they need help.”
While Dympna said she was full of praise and admiration for the awareness of the children, she said it was also a sad reflection of the growing prevalence of poverty.
“It’s a good thing that they are aware, but I think that children who are that young should not have to be in this position. Maybe some of those children who brought in some food are from families who are struggling.
“It is very heavy on the heart, when you think of the impacts which this is having on young families and children. In 2022, we should not be in this position, when children are bringing in tins of food for families in need.”
The demand for the recent school uniform exchange at the Coalisland Foodbank, gave an insight into the dramatic rise in the number of struggling families as inflation really hit home.
“We had families collecting uniforms and then they came back as they needed food. We have seen about a 30 per-cent rise. The stories we are hearing from some of these people are very difficult to hear,” Dympna continued.
“Some of them, have even refused some of the food as it has to be baked in the oven and they cannot afford the electricity for cooking. That’s how bad it is.
“We will be launching another appeal for food donations, as the demand is continuing to grow.
“To be honest, we are dreading what it will be like come January and February, but the support we have had from the likes of Newell Stores has been brilliant since we started this foodbank. Moy Park and Dunbia have also been excellent and there are many local businesses who are also playing their part. We couldn’t do this without them.”
Mary Waide, Regional President for the North Region of Saint Vincent de Paul (SVP), said her charity was also braced for a tough start to the new year.
“We are very worried that many families will continue to struggle into next year. In the coming months the cost of living crisis will hit different households in different ways particularly with the rising costs of food, energy and housing,” she said.
“Add in the cost of celebrating Christmas and you can see how difficult life is going to be for those on fixed incomes, whether that income comes from government benefits or from low-paid employment.
“Those hardest hit will include one parent-families, low income workers, low-income households in rural areas, the unemployed, those who are retired or people with disabilities and their carers.
“The most vulnerable in our communities are all facing impossible choices this Christmas which will undoubtedly stretch into the new year.
“We are appealing to people to please donate whatever they can spare to help SVP give the gift of choice this Christmas.”
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