Pizza club for Dublin’s homeless: a vital slice of comfort
A weekly pop-up party on Grafton Street offers simple pleasures to those in need
The Pizza Sunday Club operating their free pizza service for homeless people, on Grafton Street. Pictured are cofounder Martin Connolly, Anto Brophy, cofounder Cormac Noonan, Colm Gleeson and Sebastian McKenna. Photograph: Dave Meehan
It’s 8:30pm on a sunny Sunday evening on Grafton Street – as most of the final revellers from the Taste of Dublin festival make their way home, another “food party” is about to start down the street.
In front of the Disney Store, a pop-up table is placed with a modest banner identifying “The Pizza Sunday Club”.
This food party is slightly different than the grandeur of the summer food festival in nearby Iveagh Gardens. It’s a much more down-to-earth gathering which offers free pizza to members of Dublin’s homeless community.
“The aim is to bring members of the homeless community together with the general public to break down social barriers,” according to Cormac Noonan, who founded the club.
Noonan alongside his friend Martin Connolly became fed up with hearing the same news story each month about the homeless. The young men both aged in their early 20s decided to take matters into their own hands.
Every Sunday evening for almost two years now, the club has been growing in numbers. Those who attend are people who have been living in emergency accommodation or on the streets for the past number of years.
For them, the slice of pizza and live music offers more than a hot meal; it allows them a chance to interact with other members of society who often pass them by on the street.
Pizza makes people happy
“It’s simple, pizza makes people happy. It’s one of life’s simple pleasures and some people choose to get to know who the homeless community are instead of walking by them like they don’t need our help or don’t exist,” Noonan says.
Having secured donations of 60 pizzas from Domino’s, Apache Pizza and Four Star over the past two years, the club has seen a growth in attendees.
As members of the homeless community queue up, there’s a clear rapport and visible trust that has been established between the volunteers of the club and the homeless community.
One woman, who did not wish to be identified, arrived at 8:15pm with her young son aged seven and her five-year-old daughter.
The woman explains that she has been living in emergency accommodation for the past 14 months in a single hotel room with a double bed.
“I’m very reluctant to be seen here but the kids enjoy the pizza and it’s a treat for them. I can’t afford to take them to places where all their friends in school get to go, even a meal in McDonald’s is out of the question for us,” explains the Dublin woman.
“We had a house and a family home but like many others we have fallen on hard times. My husband left me and I have the two kids. There’s only so long you can stay with extended family and friends with two young kids. The novelty of two families under one roof soon wears off,” she explains.
As her son and daughter make for their favourite pizza of choice, “pepperoni”, their mother quickly takes some socks and clean underwear and tooth brushes, which are also provided by the club.
“It might not look like much, a table with some pizza outside the Disney shop, but this has become a real comfort zone for many in the homeless community. People feel a real sense of shame in admitting, ‘Yes, I take my children to get free pizza on Grafton Street’, but that’s our life now.
“It was sweltering weather this weekend and the hotel room was too cramped. The kids want to be out in the sun, and sure look at the smile on the little fella’s face now he has the pizza,” added the mother of two.
Noonan shows me a receipt for €388 which he and Connolly spent in Penneys a few hours earlier on basic essentials which they provide for the members of the homeless community who show up.
“We are not a registered charity so we can’t ask for donations although any help is most appreciated. We hold fundraisers every couple of months and then divide up the money so we can provide basic essentials like new socks and underwear and stuff like tooth brushes and tooth paste to everyone that shows up,” he says.
Pepperoni is a clear favourite among the club attendees but the four-cheese pizzas are also going down a treat as the sun dips down behind the buildings.
As the party gets into full swing, musician Giovanni Agostini provides a soundtrack to the pizza as people stand around chatting and sharing stories.
“I couldn’t stand the sweltering heat of the hostel,” says one man.
Others complain about the lack of play areas for their children while they are living in emergency accommodation.
These are issues that the Government is currently addressing by building family hubs across the city.
An American tourist stops to ask: “What’s the occasion?”
One of the volunteers explains to a white-haired lady in her early 60s that the rate of homelessness has risen significantly in the past number of years in Ireland. The woman originally from Seattle notes: “Well, at least Irish people have empathy towards this [homeless] community. In America, people just pass on by and really don’t care.
“I think this is just wonderful, I mean look at the integration. People are just enjoying themselves, regardless of where they are sleeping. It’s a commendable job you are all doing.”
The thing about the club, is that it does attract curiosity of passersby, but often times Irish people are too afraid to walk over and join the party for fear someone might think they were homeless themselves.
Another member of the homeless community, who wished to only be identified as Sharon, shared her experiences: “I have been homeless now for about seven weeks. Our rent went up and I just couldn’t afford the hike. I do have a part-time job which is why I do not want to be identified.
“I heard about the Pizza Club and look, to be really honest every little helps. The thing about presenting oneself as homeless is that it takes great courage to walk through the doors of the homeless service.
“It’s not an easy task by any means and it’s embarrassing for my teenage son. He doesn’t know I’m here right now as I am trying to shelter him for this. The thing about the homeless services is that they don’t take into account the things families have, like pets. We had a cat called Monty and we have had to leave him with friends because things like that aren’t allowed in emergency accommodation.”
As the pizza party gets into full swing, the beat of an electric guitar echoes around a now quieter Grafton Street.
“That’s the thing 60 pizzas seems like a lot for 200 people but it’s really not,” adds Noonan.
“It’s really hard if people show up near the end and there’s nothing left. A slice of pizza is a very simple thing but to someone who is homeless, it might be the one meal they are getting that day. For me that’s tough.”
The club was born out of the 25-year-old IT consultant’s frustration at how homeless people are treated.
“Two years ago, instead of doing the 12 pubs of Christmas, I took the money I would have spent and bought a few pizzas to give to homeless people.
“It was from this that the Sunday Pizza Club was born and here we are today.”
As dusk sets in on Grafton Street, the woman who had brought her two young children with her sighs. “That’s that for another week, its back to the four walls for us,” she says.
This feeling is a sentiment by many of those who turned up at the weekly club.
Anyone who wishes to become involved with the Pizza Sunday Club can visit pizzasundayclub.com.