TWO VOLUNTEERS who take to the streets of the city each week handing out soup and sandwiches to those less fortunate have been honoured with the Limerick Person of the Month award.
Sinead Carey and Annette O’Carroll of the Novas Initiatives Street Outreach Programme accepted the award this week on behalf of all the volunteers involved in the project and the people who avail of the service.
Novas Initiatives Street Outreach was set up in 2009 by Eugene Toner and Darren Crowe.
While the group of volunteers had been working away quietly on the streets of Limerick over the years, their efforts received national attention last September when they featured on RTE’s The Secret Millionaire.
The programme saw millionaire businessman Richard Mulcahy go undercover in Limerick city to volunteer in the local community and to choose local charities as his beneficiaries.
One evening, while walking along O’Connell Street, he met Annette and Sinéad who were distributing food and hot beverages to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and in need of support. On revealing his identity, Richard presented the women with a cheque of €10,000 for the cause.
“We would have had around 20 volunteers before the show was aired but now we have about 50 new volunteers so it is absolutely fantastic,” said Sinead Carey, who is a coordinator with the Novas Initiatives Street Outreach Programme.
The response to the show has also seen the project increase from a five day service to a seven day service.
Each night – no matter what the weather conditions are – the team of volunteers meet for one hour between seven and eight o’clock outside the former Ferguson’s chemist on O’Connell Street. There they hand out soup and sandwiches or a hot meal to those in need.
“We bring soup and sandwiches and tea and coffee from the hostel and then, five nights a week, The Greenhills Hotel give us hot meals,” continued Sinead, who hails from Lynwood Park.
“They have been doing that since January - prior to the programme – and they didn’t look for publicity. It is something they did quietly themselves which was absolutely brilliant,” she added.
On a quiet night there is usually in the region of 10 people availing of the service while on a busy night “you could have anything up to 30 people”.
“Some would be homeless, others would have their own accommodation and just be in need of a hand. They might have addiction issues or mental health problems or just financial issues,” said Sinead.
Since the airing of The Secret Millionaire, the overall response from the people of Limerick, Sinead said, has been “wonderful”.
“Just today, a brother and sister came to see me and said that their father had passed away and they gave us two trays of Ensure drinks (nutrition drinks) for the Street Outreach Programme. Every single day there is something – either a phone call or an email.”
According to Sinead, “it’s not all bleak and depressing”, some nights bring great interaction with the service users including the odd sing song.
For many, Annette said, the interaction with the soup run volunteers is the only human contact the service users have throughout their day.
“Their sense of humour and their survival skills are amazing. I think I learned more from them than they ever learned from me,” added Annette from Kileely.
For more information on the Street Outreach service email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Limerick Person of the Month award is sponsored by the Limerick Leader, Southern and the Clarion Hotel.