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Clare volunteers join Mid West Simon effort to meet Covid-19 demand for services

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Mid West Simon Community required 150 additional volunteers to meet demand for services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Ann Cronin

Mid West Simon Community operate a number of services to support those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness across Clare, including a monthly foodbank and an emergency accommodation hub in Ennis. Foodbank and Distribution Co-Ordinator Jenny Walsh said that the demand for these Mid West Simon Community services increased following the national lockdown in March.

“As soon as we went into lockdown, our numbers skyrocketed with people asking for help. It was families with children at home and people who found themselves unemployed looking for assistance with food.

“Some of our core volunteers wouldn’t have been able to stay with us when the pandemic hit because they would have been classed as vulnerable, so we lost some of our volunteers,” Ms. Walsh said.

In March, the Mid West Simon Community put out a call on their social media for additional volunteers and received a huge response from individuals and organisations.

Geraldine Guere (41) is a student from Ennis that began volunteering with Mid West Simon Community in July as part of her college work placement. Ms Guere volunteered in Westbrook House, a Mid West Simon Community emergency accommodation hub based in Ennis.

“I would hoover or sweep common areas, be involved in sanitizing and doing a proper wipe down of tables chairs, appliances, door handles and other things the residents would touch.

“As time went on and the residents got comfortable, we did some baking and cooking with them as well,” she said.

Ms Guere also volunteers in the Mid West Simon Community foodbank in Ennis, distributing food bags, toiletries and school supplies to service users. The Ennis-based student said that working with Mid West Simon Community has helped her to better understand those affected by homelessness in her community.

“Having met the clients and connected with them, I just realised they’re normal people who just fell off the road they were on,” the social care student said.

“How the organisation fight to advocate for the clients and support them, it’s lovely to see.

“I would definitely challenge people to volunteer with them, it is very rewarding, especially at the moment when we know there’s a housing crisis happening,” she said.

Pat Crowley (69) from Cratloe started volunteering with Mid West Simon Community in April after being put on furlough from work.

Mr Crowley’s volunteer work included delivering hot meals to individuals living in hotels and hostels and collecting donated foods from local supermarkets.

“I would have been collecting food parcels from the Simon warehouse in Ballysimon and delivering them to individual addresses, some houses and apartments. That would have been typically 30 deliveries a day.

“Every evening since I started, except Sundays, I collect surplus items from one or two supermarkets, usually bakery items. These are usually supplemented by donations from customers, so I typically end up with three or four good boxes of grocery items. I drop those off at a Simon centre and they get to people that need them.

“I’m relatively new to it but it’s only when you do it that you see there’s a real need for it,” Mr. Crowley said.

Mr. Crowley, who works in the travel industry, said he hopes to continue volunteering with the organisation when he returns to work.

Foodbank and Distribution Coordinator Jenny Walsh said that Mid West Simon Community is hugely grateful to all the volunteers that supported them in recent months, as the pandemic has had a major effect on the organisation’s fundraising and resources.

“Resources are challenging. It’s the same with every organisation, we just don’t have the funding.

“Our fundraising has completely stopped. The things we would have done this time last year, such as a charity ball, that’s all stopped. We don’t have the resources to hire extra people to cope with demand, so that’s where the volunteers have stepped in,” Ms. Walsh explained.

Mid West Simon Community support men, women and children that are homeless or at risk of homelessness across Clare, Limerick and North Tipperary.

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