Demand is nowhere near what it was at the height of lockdown, but even as we make a slow return to normality, Derry’s Dungiven club will continue assisting the vulnerable and elderly members of their community.
As chairman Kieran McKeever correctly put it, the sense of loneliness that exists for a certain section of society won’t come and go with this pandemic and so the contact numbers listed on the information leaflet the club slipped through every letterbox around Dungiven back in mid-March will continue to take calls from whoever needs groceries delivered, a prescription collected, or simply wants a chat to break up the silence of their day.
“The focus is going to change now to games, but that dimension of people being vulnerable and lonely, when you think about it, there was probably already a sense of loneliness amongst a percentage of elderly people pre-lockdown. There was loneliness there, but they didn’t have a phone number they could call to say, ‘look, I’m in a bit of difficulty here, I need a light bulb changed, or can you pick up a prescription, or I need some groceries’.
“There were older people who were suffering silently, so it was great that that network [provided by the club] was there for them and maybe continue to be there for them,” said McKeever.
“During lockdown, there were Government numbers people could call. But, sometimes, it is hard to get through to those numbers. Contacting someone local in the community, they felt a little bit safer, a little bit more content.”
Dungiven GAA club established a food bank very early into the lockdown, delivering groceries to those in need on a twice-weekly basis. Hot meals, cooked up by club volunteers, were also provided.
The club has a membership of approximately 700, but those who benefited from their work over the past three months stretched far beyond club boundaries.
“The food bank was open to the whole community, cross-community, as well, which is very important in this area. There is a local sheltered accommodation. We would have been taking hot meals to the people living there, as well as vulnerable people and people with health problems. We were delivering 35-40 dinners on Wednesdays and Sundays,” McKeever, a former All-Star winner, continued.
“The fact that we have people throughout the parish, town, and outlying areas all involved with the club made it very easy to set up the network we did at the start of lockdown and to have a leader in each area of the town, with their team of helpers. You can’t put words as to the importance of that network already being there. If you had to set that up from scratch, it would be very difficult to do. The importance of the GAA in the community is now second to none. You just know that it is the GAA that makes it click.”