On the front line

When those in need pick up the phone to SVP, Linda’s voice is often the first they hear. We sat down with Linda to hear about these callers’ stories. Thanks to your generous support, we can be there to help.

How long have you been with St Vincent de Paul?

When I was 18 years old, I agreed to come along to an introduction to the Society. I joined my first all-girls Conference. I worked as a volunteer for about nine years. In the meantime, a job vacancy came available at the old head office on Nicholas Street. At the tender age of 19 and a half, I took a permanent position answering the phones. That was 1979.

I have been the team leader for the information section since 2008. We take all the calls for help in the East region of Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow so it’s very busy.

You have been answering calls for so long now; do any in particular ever stand out?

I had a recent first-time call from a woman whose story really touched my heart. When I answered the phone, I could hear the hesitancy in her voice. I could sense it had taken a lot for her to ring me. I had to persuade her, gently encourage her to tell her story. She said it had taken her 18 months to make this phone call.

My heart nearly stopped to think that this woman suffered in silence for 18 months. Because she is so proud and she didn’t want anyone to know how badly off she is. She lives in a rural area and is well known for her involvement with the community.

She works part-time, and her husband is full-time. But the problem is they have this house with a big mortgage which is now in negative equity. So they were forced to move. Her eldest daughter, 16, suffers from health issues. They do not have a medical card and so they started getting more and more into debt with her medical bills.

"But there was one thing that really struck me from what she said. Sometimes, to make it look like the food was lasting, she would move it around in the fridge. She would never put anything on top of each other so when the children opened the fridge it looked like they had plenty."

That’s someone who is not on social welfare and she is really struggling, but was afraid to ask for help. It’s very important people know that SVP is for everyone. Because of our kind supporters, volunteers were able to visit this woman. They gave her food vouchers to keep the fridge full. She didn’t want constant help, she just needed a hand up.

How many calls per day on average does your team answer?

Outside of our busy period, it can be between 150 and 200 calls per day. Then it starts increasing dramatically from August onwards in relation to back to school. In that month we can average up to 300 calls per day. By the time it gets to November and December that increases again to anything from 300 to 500 calls. Last year in these two months, we took in 22,000 calls alone!

The number of calls has definitely remained constant compared to last year. And sadly there’s been an increase in first-time callers this year. They would be the most upsetting.

What is it that keeps you going after so many difficult calls like that?

I think the satisfaction for me is knowing that the person has made the phone call. I hate to think of anyone suffering in silence. And believe it or not you can always smile down a phone. You mightn’t necessarily see that person but if that person can get a warmth from your voice and a warmth from you, that can make all the difference to them.

It’s not an ordinary job and that’s what I like about it. The people that donate to St Vincent de Paul make some really wonderful things happen for people in need. And I’m happy to play my part in that.

Based on a true story from a family helped by SVP. Names and some details have been changed for confidentiality.