A west of Ireland tourist service revamped to help cocooned locals on Achill Island has been lauded as a valuable lifeline.
Deirdre Garvey, CEO of The Wheel, an umbrella group for charities, told Morning Ireland that groups like Achill Tourism are "providing lifelines to people who are vulnerable all over the country".
The tourist company transformed its infrastructure to coordinate services to help elderly and vulnerable people living in the area when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
With the tourist economy broken, and as visitors stay away from tourist attractions and destinations, locals transformed 'Achill Tourism' to 'Achill Community Response Coordination Centre'.
Achill Tourism's staff, two offices and manned phone lines are now used as a hotline facility for people looking for help during the COVID-19 crisis.
The coordination centre organises shopping and prescription collection for locals who cannot travel from their homes.
"The community response coordination centre can be contacted on the Achill Tourism number or by email for people who need messages or prescriptions delivered," Chris McCarthy, manager of Achill tourism told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland radio programme.
"This morning we had 37 deliveries. These were shopping orders that were taken over the last two or three days," said Mr. McCarthy.
"We would be servicing within the region of 250 locals a week," Mr. McCarthy added.
250 volunteers recruited in Achill’s 20 townlands also take care of bins – bringing them in and out for kerbside collection for cocooned locals. Other services include, amongst other things, maintaining a community alert system.
"I do the bins for the elderly. I take care of the panic alarms. We make sure they are working ok so they are able to live securely in their homes," said Nigel Patten, a volunteer with the coordination group and chairperson of Achill Community Alert.
"We are all volunteers. We all travel to different places. The area is widely spread as Achill is 57 square miles. From one house to another there is a good distance. It takes plenty of time and effort to complete the task," added Mr. Patten.
The Achill deliveries are made by Local Link Mayo, which also services other parts of the county.
"We have several requests to bring sprays for killing weeds, and batteries for electric fences, and some miracle grow for tomatoes"
Local Link driver Michael O’Hare, who works the Achill Island route, told Morning Ireland people are happy when he makes deliveries.
"Some of them would be so delighted that they’d be asking us in for a drink," said Mr. O’Hare jokingly.
"The first week, the people were a little apprehensive. The fact that they knew us means there is no big interference," added Mr. O’Hare.
"We were out today and people were asking us when we come on Tuesday next to bring seeds for setting in the garden and we have several requests to bring sprays for killing weeds, and batteries for electric fences, and some miracle grow for tomatoes," added Mr. O’Hare.
'Achill Community Response Coordination Centre' is also working with two meals on wheels services that "have seen a 40% increase in demand".
"We have a fabulous service. We want for nothing"
Val Stenson and Breege Molloy, both who are in their 70s and use the service, said the community response service makes a difference to their lives.
"I email them, maybe on a Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, and I give them a list in the tourism office of the items we would like them to buy. They go along on Thursday evening, or Friday morning, and do the shopping on our behalf. They charge it to our account and deliver it that afternoon. We have a fabulous service. We want for nothing," said Mr. Stenson.
Breege Molly said: "We have a great service".
CEO of The Wheel, an umbrella group for charities, Deirdre Garvey, said the Achill community’s efforts reflect what is happening all over Ireland.
"It is a brilliant job that they have done in Achill Island," said Ms. Garvey.
"We are seeing thousands of communities and community groups providing lifelines to people who are vulnerable all over the country," Ms. Garvey added.