In all of our communities right now, there are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, who are wondering how they are going to make it through the winter and out the far side. They know that there are just a few weeks until Christmas; that their children are looking enviously at the Smyths catalogue and making a wishlist — yet they feel they have never been as badly prepared as they are this year.
For all of them, this new situation is coming as a shock. Their bodies go into shutdown, their minds try to come to terms with the new reality that money is not as plentiful and every decision will have to be calculated. The comfort of the Tiger years left them ill-prepared for it and now, although they know that it is a common situation, they do not know where to turn to for help. Factors such as pride prevent them from turning to others, letting people know the truth. And so many will sit in their nice negative-equitied homes, with their children going cold and hungry, rather than asking for help and sharing their situation.
In short, they feel that they have failed themselves and their families by allowing themselves to be sucked into this situation. These were the comfortable families of the Tiger period -- and these are the people who most of all this Christmas need to pick up the phone and call the St Vincent de Paul Society.
This week, the Society in Galway launched its Christmas appeal and admitted that there is no downward trend in the number of people looking for help.
In this county, I have heard many examples in the past week of middle class families with fine houses, suffering in silence within, with no heating, power disconnected, jobs gone, pride in pieces, children going to school with mainly empty lunchboxes if they’d have a lunchbox at all. Schools in many areas are doing a great job in masking this and protecting dignity.
The people who for years gave generously to the St Vincent de Paul because they knew what sterling work they do, are now the families who need their help, but are just too damn proud to ask. Children are not knowing or understanding why it is that their lives have changed. And in such a vacuum, decisions are not rational. Problems seem magnified.
For those of you who are in the fortunate position of having a job and a steady income this winter, please give generously to the St Vincent de Paul collectors when they come calling over the next few weeks. The diminishing income of all Irish families will mean that more than ever, the work of the society will be needed and they in turn will need whatever funds it can raise. And there but for the grace of God go us all.
Over the next few weeks, we will all be stressing ourselves thinking we haven't got this and we haven't got that and because we can't afford it, that means we have failed in some way. Don't be pressurised this year into thinking you have to get the same standard of gift as you did in the past. Don't be thinking you have to have the biggest turkey or that you have to impress anybody. Don’t be besotted with flash. Nobody is fooled by that guff anymore.
January and the implications on the wage packets of those lucky enough to have jobs and for those on social welfare will bring a new reality, but there is a sense of zest and renewal at the start of a New Year, so there is little point in getting yourself into debt over Christmas. Remember the important things in life are family and friends and Christmas should be seen as a time when those links are accentuated. So if you're in dire straits, tell someone and you'll be surprised how much help there is out there. Don’t be shy now.