A charity worker who has run the Penny Dinners charity in Cork for close to two decades says the last fortnight has seen some of the toughest times they have ever experienced with the soup kitchen now serving over 1,000 dinners a day and giving out the same number of survival bags.
Twelve years ago, Penny Dinners on Little Hanover Street in Cork city centre was assisting about 100 people a week. Now, the charity could see up to 1,200 people in a single day.
Caitriona Twomey, who runs the charity, said the cost of living crisis had hugely impacted many families in the post-Christmas period. She urged members of the public to contact the charity if they were at risk of going hungry.
“At the minute we are serving over 1,000 dinners a day and 1,000 survival bags of food for people to eat throughout the day so they don’t go hungry. Water, juice and fruit and all of that. We try to take everything in to consideration.”
Her concern was echoed by the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) which warned of people falling further into poverty due to the steep rise in utility bills sent out in recent weeks, coupled with January credit card payments, rising interest rates and increased grocery prices.
Many householders who received utility bills this week have reported costs rising by as much as 100 per cent compared to last year as increased energy prices took effect over winter.
Social Democrats Cllr Elisa O’Donovan tweeted on Saturday about her gas bill for December and January coming in at €1,200 even though she only used heating “for an hour or so” each evening.
Warning of rising fuel poverty, SVP said it handled 228,301 calls for help last year, an increase of 19.5 per cent compared with 2021.
SVP president Rose McGowan said: “People are suffering, I don’t know how some people get up in the morning. They are out the door with bills. I am around a long time, we wouldn’t have been visiting a lot of people who have jobs but I am visiting them now. We have people putting their children to bed at night and worrying that they have nothing for their breakfast in the morning.”
[ Energy costs bite: ‘I don’t know how anyone is expected to pay a bill that big’ ]
In Cork, Ms Twomey said the dynamic of the soup kitchen had changed in recent years. Volunteers are seeing people “who were one okay” who are now being evicted from their homes because of either “crippling mortgages” or “crippling rents”.
“People are working two jobs and they are still crippled. They are backed in to a corner. When that happens our suicide rates increase. You see the missing persons out searching for people. It is a pattern. It is one we keep talking about and we keep saying, and one the Government keeps ignoring.
“If one person loses their life as a result of just not having enough money to pay rent, or mortgage or to buy food for their family it is one too many. Mental health has gone out of control in this country. It is hurting whole families.”
Speaking to Opinion Line on Cork’s 96FM, Ms Twomey said she was also concerned about the closing of small businesses such as hairdressers, cafes and pubs.
“People are left with nothing. Can you imagine their state of mind? Their hurt? Blood, sweat and tears. They have so much to deal with in their heads on top of the fact that they have no money.
“They have to prove the business went bust. They have to submit form after form. They have to go through all of that to get something in to their home.”
Ms Twomey stressed the Penny Dinners service was not only about providing a meal. It gave the vulnerable and needy a warm comfortable place to eat and company.
“If anyone knows of any family that is going hungry they can contact us. We will respond to those calls. There is no need for anyone to be worried or embarrassed. We are very confidential in what they do.
“People feel they may have to spill their guts to us if they want hampers. But they don’t. If they are short of food they are short of food. We accept it, we understand it and we will do something to help.”
* Penny Dinners can be reached at corkpennydinners.ie and the Samaritans can be contacted on freephone: 116 123 or email: email@example.com