For families with limited income, basic needs like food and heating often have to be sacrificed. Very often the result is that parents go without essentials, in order to provide the means of survival to their children. Such is the plight of many of the 80,000 beneficiaries helped by the 10,000 volunteer members of the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) England and Wales each year. It is families in circumstances like this which the SVP seeks to highlight in this week of its “Happy Families” Awareness Campaign which has been running in parishes across the country throughout September.
This week the focus is on “Mrs Goes Without” a mother struggling to put food on the table. Posters will be going up in parishes across England and Wales featuring Mrs Goes Without, to encourage awareness of families suffering similar hardship helped by SVP members each year.
An example is Josephine, an asylum visitor who had recently moved to Cardiff with her two year old child. One bitterly cold November day, SVP members went to visit Josephine. They found her living in dilapidated housing with no heating and no means of cooking apart from a microwave donated by friends. There was one egg in the fridge for the baby and nothing else. Josephine was frightened but struggling to stay positive. She had been unable to get all the benefits to which she was entitled, and the two of them were living on a single person’s income support of £70 per week to cover everything. SVP members provided immediate relief on the day with £100 for food and essentials including basic cooking utensils.
They befriended Josephine and over the weeks provided her with furniture and other necessities including a washing machine and clothes for her and her child. The SVP supported Josephine financially for 22 weeks until her benefit problems were resolved. Members also spent hours making phone calls on her behalf to the tax credit and child benefit offices until she was awarded the correct amount. After a long and frustrating process, Josephine was finally given British citizenship – and hope for her and her child’s future.
The SVP wants people of all faiths and none to be aware that as families become more fragmented, people are becoming increasingly isolated. The society can therefore provide an extended family to those people who have none.
Elizabeth Palmer, CEO, says: “The SVP is able to help people on a very personal basis through the weekly visit, developing strong and long lasting friendships in some cases, as well as providing practical support and assistance where necessary. Through befriending, the members gain the trust of those they visit. It is not uncommon for a chat over a cup of tea to lead to a disclosure of real need. Members get a unique insight into the lives of many people in different situations of hardship. Our members can act like family where this kind of support is missing in someone’s life.”
Adrian Abel, National President of the SVP in England and Wales explains, “The SVP may seem like an extended family, and that is just what the society aims to be. Although these characteristics start in the parish conference, they go much further. In England and Wales there are almost 10,000 members in over 1,000 parishes, visiting over 80,000 people in their homes, hospitals, residential homes, prisons and even meeting them at support centres or through the SVP’s network of over 40 community shops. Worldwide the SVP has 800,000 members in 150 countries making it a great force for good wherever it exists.”
The ‘Happy Families?’ campaign runs in Parishes across England and Wales until the end of September. To find out more, contact Anita Boniface by emailing AnitaB@svp.org.uk, telephone the SVP National Office on 0207 703 3030 or visit www.svp.org.uk