Going to Ennis is a bit special. Great town, great atmosphere.
On match day, you can almost feel the intensity as you arrive on the team bus into the town, let alone when you cross the white lines of Cusack Park.
Easy get the run around there for sure, but it still feels like the crowd is on top of you. Plenty of room to play but no place to hide.
That’s Ennis for you.
I’m not on a bus now and it’s certainly not summer. The Banner flags are still draping off shop fronts, but different decorations are being unfurled. A different time of year but a special one. And still a special welcome.
That welcome is part hurling and the craic is mighty. They’re not long stopping you on the street and right outside O’Donnell’s Sports I’ve a proud Clare man telling me ‘you’re getting on a bit’. All good banter, of course.
There’s another special welcome going on nearby, though. A much deeper welcome.
It’s a bunch of people tucked away, in behind Bindon Street. St. Columba’s Church to be precise and they’re beavering away, welcoming people who come in hope of getting some support from Mid West Simon’s foodbank.
Mid West Simon is about supporting people who are homeless and clearly not just a problem in the bigger cities.
Here, the staff and volunteers are giving out non-perishable foods; tins of beans, cornflakes, pasta, rice and much, much more.
Importantly, they’re giving it with a smile, a kindness and a chat. It’s giving them food but also done with dignity. Everyone in receipt of support is vetted. Their need confirmed.
I’ve spent two years, through my employer DHL Global Forwarding, as an ambassador for Mid-West Simon and I’m reminded here yet again of how humbling it is to be among their staff and volunteers.
People who turn up simply to help others, to help people who have fallen on difficult times and who need that helping hand.
And with the people of Mid-West Simon, it’s outstretched. And it’s warm.
You can’t but admire that.
I’m also reminded of just how polarized society is today.
No more than with the wider Mid-West region, Ennis is what you’d consider to be an affluent town. It’s streets are buzzing. Windows are dressed, the town is ready for the Christmas spend.
Yes, everyone is feeling a bit of a financial squeeze, but the spending will happen. The people we meet in the queue forming as I arrive pretty much have nothing to spend. Nothing in their pocket really but poverty and hope.
It’s all happening in a corner 100m or so from high street shops. Same space really yet worlds apart.
It’s a busy morning there and Gearoid Quilty from Mid-West Simon tells me that they had 15 new registrations by 10am. People worried that they would not have enough food this winter. And there’ll be more the next day. And the next day again.
Last year they gave out just under 25,000 food parcels this year that will double. And the closer to Christmas, the greater the demand.
Food for the Mid West Simon’s Foodbanks comes through the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), which supports EU countries’ actions to provide food and/or basic material assistance to the most deprived.
But there isn’t any funding for the operational and staffing costs. That’s where the need is. That’s where we all can help.
They get much welcome support from the local authorities but, as Gearoid stresses, the problem, the demand is getting worse and worse.
We think of crises across the world and the grave needs there but, at the same time, there is a stark need here too. Hard to reason it, but from what I saw in Ennis, it’s here on our doorstep.
Mid West Simon’s Christmas campaign is ‘Help Unwrap the Gift of Hope this Christmas’. Hope is a great thing to give. We all hope for things in life that we want, but some people’s hope is just to get their basic needs met.
If you can help with that this Christmas, please go to https://www.midwestsimon.ie/donate/
See you next week when, as part of this series on Mid West Simon’s incredible work, we’re back with some more from Diarmaid’s insights on the incredible Mid West Simon work across Clare, Limerick and Tipperary.
After that, we’re off Tipperary, to Nenagh and the work being done there. And a bit more hurling talk.
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