THE Society of St Vincent de Paul has launched its annual Christmas appeal with a dire warning that it expects the number of calls for help to be higher than at any time in recent years.
Already, requests for its services have tripled compared to last year, while in the first week of this month alone, more than 1,000 calls were received by the Society's Belfast office.
Against a backdrop of rising living costs and the cut in Universal Credit uplift, the charity says more people have been requesting help with food, fuel and white goods than last year - meaning parents will be in need of assistance to place presents under the Christmas tree so their children do not wake up to an empty Christmas.
"At the time of year when we remember Christ's birth and which should bring joy and create magical memories for children, parents are struggling and in the depths of despair," said Mary Waide, Regional President of St Vincent de Paul, North Region.
"I would appeal to the generosity of our local people in communities across the province to make a donation to SVP to help their neighbours. We are accepting phone and online donations this year so SVP can provide families with vouchers, empowering them to prioritise what they choose to buy."
Mary said "some people are finding themselves being faced with the decision of whether to put food on the table, heat the home or buy presents for their children as Christmas approaches".
"While a third of children are living in poverty in Northern Ireland, we are not just being asked for help by people trying to make ends meet on low incomes, we are also receiving requests from people who have been plunged into poverty and are living in extreme pressure due to rising energy costs, an increase in the cost of living, the reduction in Universal Credit and the impact of the pandemic," she said.
To receive help from SVP, visit svpni.co.uk.
To donate to the SVP Annual Appeal, telephone 028 9075 0161 or visit svp.ie/nigifts.