A Belfast woman has been overwhelmed by the response to a group she has started helping those battling the rising cost of living.
The Facebook group, named ‘Help is at hand for those in need’, was started by Louise McKee three months ago and currently has nearly 5,000 members.
As the cost of living continues to rise in Northern Ireland, requests for essential items including food, clothing and furniture have continued to pour in, with Louise doing her best to help as many people as possible.
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But without a base, and all the items stored between Louise’s house and her sister’s, there’s not much they can do to help those in need.
Speaking to Belfast Live about starting the group, Louise said: “I always wanted to start this and I always said that even if we could only help one family a week that would be great. But it just went completely beyond anything i could have thought of, the amount of people in northern ireland needing help is soul destroying.
“I’m in tears all the time, it’s hard. I did open my eyes when I started this band, I’ll never take anything for granted again.
“It’s absolutely great to be able to help people, but what I do is not enough. But I can only do what I can do, I just wish it was more and I could give people more. I will always try and do my best, and the band will keep moving forward.”
Louise and her sister meet every Thursday to plan their week, and on Fridays distribute parcels of fresh produce. In the first week of giving out the free parcels, they did 15 but ended up doing 27, and even that didn’t meet the demand they had received.
“It’s not just people on benefits, it’s people in low-paying jobs who are really struggling,” Louise added.
“It’s the people who live in their own homes who need help but are too embarrassed to ask. I knew people were struggling, but a lot of people live in real poverty and I don’t think the people realize that.
“Bills are going up, food is going up, and people can’t make ends meet. We’re going into homes where people aren’t just out of power, they’re completely out of power, and we’re recharging them. But it’s all done through donations, we don’t have much.”
Many of the requests Louise receives are from concerned neighbors and friends, however, anyone in need can get in touch by posting to the Facebook group or by private messaging.
All items are distributed free of charge, but anyone who can afford it can leave a £2 donation to fund the group.
In order to help more people and store more donations, Louise hopes to secure a base.
She said: “We have cookers, furniture, clothes, food parcels – you name it. But it’s overwhelming. We have all the stuff stored in my sister’s house and my house, but it’s invading our homes completely.
“We are desperately trying to find a place where people can come. I want to have a building where people can come where they can pick up what they need for free.”
The group receives item donations through its Facebook page, but has also received help from businesses with items and vouchers.
One pub owner in particular, who wished to remain anonymous, was singled out by Louise as a great help.
She said: “He will do his best to get us anything we might need, but he will never let us use his name in a thank you message. He said he just wanted to give back and help people. He’s so good to us, it’s unbelievable.”
Louise, who has lived in Northern Ireland since she was 17, said the band show the best of people here.
“What I love about the group is that we have all the communities there. There is no division, it’s just that everyone helps each other,” she said. declared.
“This story of Northern Ireland and hate is not true. There are really good people here. I’ve been here since I was 17, my parents are from here, I married a man from here. They are good people and they really care about people.”
You can find out more about the group via their Facebook page here.
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