The Vincent’s shop, off Linenhall Street in Castlebar.

Profits from St. Vincent de Paul shop are invested locally

By Tom Gillespie

THE Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP) is the largest voluntary organisation in the country and has been in Ireland since 1844.

The SVP is unique in that 90 per cent of donations are spent on those in need and only 10 per cent on administration, which is quite unusual.

The requests for help this year around the country have increased by 20 per cent.

Mayo SVP volunteer, Stephen Blendell, told me: "We get 1,500 calls for help every month and they are from ordinary, decent people. You never know when you are going to hit a blip in you life.

“We are all volunteers, not professions, but a lot of us would have a professional background with a vast work and life experience and qualifications to share.

“We lobby the government on poverty and social justice issues which can be seen on the website, and the government listens to us which shows our credibility when they take us seriously.”

Locally, he said, with the Sisters of Mercy, the society has set up the Mayo Women’s Support Service and the Social Services in Castlebar.

Stephen continued: "Locally we help the needs of the community in many ways, for example, visitation. We have the Holy Rosary Conference - a visitation conference. These volunteers meet clients who contact us for help. “We assess their needs and as a conference decide how best to help. Often the need is purely a financial difficulty, maybe they get two or three bills together and can’t cope. Sometimes it is more complex.

“We find that many clients fall between two stools in that there is no government agency or organisation that can or will help them and we can step in there because that is what we do a lot of the time.

“Needs are changing. It is usually the workers that are worst off. For example research by UCC shows that the people most likely to go to a moneylender would be the higher paid worker, not the people on low income or people on welfare.

“We are really trying to target the working poor and those whose circumstances have changed. Very seldom do people on welfare need help in comparison. They get their regular money and very rarely have a blip in their lives.”

SVP have the Vincent’s shop in Castlebar where and they provide quality clothing, often brand new.

Stephen continued: “Businesses around town are very good to us. Some of the shops give us excess stock, odd sizes and all brand new. A lot of shops when they reopened would have had winter stock which was donated to us.

”We also provide bedding, curtains and crockery, all at very affordable prices. Sometimes people come into the shop not knowing what they might find. All the profit from the shop is spent locally. Unlike other charities it is spent in Castlebar.

“We have three clothes banks and they are going a bomb for us. We put a new bring bank in Castle Street which is about to be moved up to the old swimming pool. We also have one at Breaffy Church.

“Pat Staunton put a clothes bank in his car park last year and he is easily buying oil for two families a month. All the business people around town are very supportive of us.

“The good stuff in the clothes banks we sell in the shops. The stuff we don’t use from the clothes banks we sell on wholesale to a company in the North which they recycle and they give us a fairly good price. That money again is spent in Castlebar.

“We have a new conference called St. Aloysius, set up because we see education as a way out of poverty and hardship and even to improver someone’s self worth.

“St. Aloysius is the Patron Saint of young people and education. Four or five great people have joined that conference, all with an educational background or of working with young people. The conference will be supporting young people, but education and training generally.”

The society have 51 social housing or apartments in Castlebar. The needs of housing have changed, Stephen said, adding: “It is impossible for young people to get a mortgage now. You have to have a CV now to get a mortgage because the lending institutions want to know if you lose your job will you be employable in the future. That’s the way it’s gone. There is an opening there for us as well as a challenge.

“We also have the Sacred Heart Conference - the hospital visitation conference which has been going for as long time and there are great volunteers there.

“We always need volunteers for these different areas. From an advertisement in The Connaught Telegraph just after one day we might have a couple of volunteers for the shop. It is a good experience for people to work in the shop. I would highly recommend for young people, when they leave school and go off to college to think about joining St. Vincent de Paul where they will have an instant family and friends.

"A lot of young people are interested in economics, sociology, politics, spirituality and social justice issues and the SVP in a very practical way ticks all those boxes, because you are involved in all those sectors.

“The only thing you need really to join SVP is to respect our Catholic ethos but also a sense of humour which is very important.”

The Castlebar SVP office is located at Pavilion Road and has recently been renovated. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and can be contact on (094) 9023207, while the Vincent’s shop (pictured) is located in the archway into SuperValu from Linenhall Street and its opening hours are Tuesday to Friday: 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be contacted on (094) 9028569.