Guest speaker, Pauline Brown Regional Manager, Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) Monday 08 February gave an account of the history and role of SVP which, she pointed out, basically aims to alleviate poverty and deprivation. Having originated during the troubled times in early 1800s in Paris, it quickly spread worldwide to 130 countries and was founded in Ireland in 1844 as a response to the need and poverty from the potato famine. It has, she noted, changed very little and is member-led. Operating locally through their “conferences” which, in NI, number 185 well spread across the province they have 1,800 members (volunteers) and 10 staff.
The basis of their work is home visits and normally they make approximately 500 home visits each week providing non-judgmental, direct, confidential, practical and material support through financial help (one of the few charities which do), fuel and food vouchers, household items, whitegoods and clothes based on the need of individuals and families. Their Christmas Appeal with the Salvation Army is well known but less well known is that they also provide pre-school facilities, breakfast and afterschool clubs; have a vibrant school programme; operate 31 retail shops and are twinned with Ghana and Botswana. She revealed that Covid has exposed the poverty in NI; during 2020 they experienced a 67% increase in the number of people requiring their support mainly due to reduced incomes from being furloughed or lost jobs and she pointed out people are in crisis, making impossible choices whether to provide food or heat.
SVP Chair Mary Waide noted that she came from the volunteer end of SVP in Ballymena and revealed she is aware that there are homes with nothing in the cupboard and children coming to school having had no breakfast and stressed that these are not just people on benefits.
They both thanked the Club for the support and for inviting them to speak.