This weekend the Lecarrow Benevolent Fund committee and its supporters will travel to the Mount Errigal Hotel in Letterkenny in the hope of winning a Pride of Place Award in the ‘Outreach’ section.
The fund was established by a small but determined group of people 16 years ago to ensure that those in need have had somewhere to turn when the going gets tough.
A unique way of assisting people in need was devised in the parish in 2001 by a group of community-minded individuals as they endeavoured to assist groups and individuals in difficulty. To date, the fund has raised over €200,000 – a staggering amount, considering its humble beginnings.
Earlier this week I spoke to Billy Kelly to find out more about the generous work being carried out on the ground in Lecarrow. Billy is the chairperson of the Lecarrow Benevolent Fund and was a founding member back in 2001. He explained the idea and driving force behind it.
“There are times in everyone’s life when money is needed. Whether it’s when loved ones become ill, a person loses their job or when a child becomes ill and a parent has to take time off work and organise care for siblings while still having to worry about the mortgage, bills and other everyday expenses,” he said.
The fund has benefitted a wide range of local and national organisations, from Barretstown and Barnardo’s to senior citizens’ groups from nearby parishes. But it’s the individual cases that leave a lump in the throat according to Billy.
“The fund was established with a view to assist those who may find themselves in a difficult financial position through no fault of their own. One such example is where we were able to assist with a cheque for €2,500 to Barbara Mountfield, who lost her home in a devastating fire.”
There are, however, many others who will never be named publicly. They come from all walks of life and are supported confidentially by the fund through local parish priest Fr. Ray Milton.
The hardship of long trips to Dublin and Galway for cancer treatment is somewhat eased by the donation of fuel vouchers, for example. It’s hard to overstate the value of these donations and the effect such a token of support has on those in need. For those already faced with a difficult diagnosis and long road to recovery, the warm embrace of the local community can be felt through the Benevolent Fund’s activities.
The committee have reached out beyond the parish too and in 2015 presented a cheque for €2,500 for the purchase of a krank cycle and tablet for use in the aftercare service at the Cardiac Unit in Roscommon Hospital and Pride of Place judges were suitably impressed following their visit to the hospital recently.
The fund also provides basic needs, such as toiletries, underwear and overnight garments for the psychiatric unit at Roscommon Hospital and has also paved the way for the purchase of life-saving equipment within local parishes. Six defibrillators have been purchased and installed to date with another promised in the very near future and the ongoing maintenance costs of these defibrillators is also covered by the fund.
Funds raised have also contributed to the development of Lecarrow itself by supporting community events, initiatives and groups in the area such as: the construction of a storage shed in the new graveyard at St. John’s, Lecarrow Girl Guides, St. John’s Heritage Group, St. John’s Community Centre and many others.
Ironically, the Lecarrow Benevolent Fund really took off during an economic crisis according to Billy.
“When the recession hit in 2008, that’s when we started noticing an increase. During the boom years people would be coming up to me and saying: ‘What are you doing Billy? Why are you going at that?’”
He went on to detail some of the generous donations the fund has received from local businesses and kind-hearted parishioners.
“The community around here is just phenomenal, it’s amazing how generous people are, it really is. Every donation, no matter how big or small means so much to us.
“We have five or six new sponsors coming to us every year looking to offer help. There have also been cases where a local person will put their hand in their pocket and give a decent sum of money to support a family or an individual. That’s without being asked too. Just a fantastic community spirit.”
Most of the money is donated by sponsors and members of the community but fundraisers are also organised on an annual basis by local groups and organisations.
Billy recalled several cases where local people in need had been helped by the fund. Normal, hard-working people who had fallen on hard times or had fallen ill. Some of those assisted by the fund told their stories at the recent Pride of Place judging in Lecarrow.
“It’s very rewarding! There was one man who had a young child who was very ill,” says Billy. “He was just on the floor and was finding it hard to work due to his child’s illness.
“He was up and down to Dublin every week with the child and was struggling financially so I arranged to meet him. To see the smile on his face and the faces of those the fund has helped is very satisfying.
“We are indebted to local people, extremely generous sponsors and community leaders for all their help and support since 2001.”
Billy and his committee members aim to use the Lecarrow Benevolent Fund as a vehicle for positive change within the community as well as a shining example for other communities to follow.
For now though, the committee members will make their way to Letterkenny in the hope of claiming an award for their heart-warming and life-changing work within the local community. The real reward, however, can be found closer to home among the many people the fund has helped to date.