Soup kitchen gives out thousands of dinners on Christmas Day

Catriona Twomey was visibly moved as she detailed suffering she has seen this year

Covid-19 forced the cancellation of their traditional Christmas sit-down meal for the homeless. Photograph: iStock

Covid-19 forced the cancellation of their traditional Christmas sit-down meal for the homeless. Photograph: iStock

 

Weary but dedicated volunteers at a soup kitchen in Cork city were on the road until 4am on Christmas Day delivering the last of 10,000 Christmas hampers which will help the needy get through the holiday season.

Hundred more people had their Christmas dinner delivered to them courtesy of Penny Dinners and the River Lee Hotel.

Caitriona Twomey, the powerhouse behind the charity, was visibly moved as she detailed the despair and suffering which she has seen this year.

Sadly Covid-19 forced the cancellation of their traditional Christmas sit-down meal for the homeless.

However, Ms Twomey was not defeated with the “Little Miracle on Hanover Street” still underway this morning as volunteers from as far away as Romania, Lithuania and France delivered meals to thousands of people in the city and county.

Caitriona said her phone has been ringing non-stop as people in difficult situations continue to contact her about delivering Christmas dinner.

“Last night was a tough night. We are still getting calls. We are sad that we can’t have people inside but we are doing the best we can. We are coming to the end of a really tough year for people. It has taken its toll.

“We have to go around the city and county to people who can’t get here because there is no public transport.

“We were on the road until 4am with the hampers. Going to doors so late at night is an unusual one for us. Whatever happened during 2020 we don’t want to happen in 2021.

“People have to be looked after. They are calling us saying ‘Are you definitely coming with dinner?’ You can feel the underlying worry.

“We had a famine years ago when it was unavoidable. We don’t have one now because of the generosity of people. The goodness on one side is much bigger than the sadness on the other.”

Poignantly this year they received food from restaurants and shops which will never open again because the impact of Covid and the restrictions has made their position untenable.

Devastation

Ms Twomey says that even before 2021 starts they can see the devastation that is going to be wreaked upon society.

“We will prepare ourselves for that. We have people who never thought they would have to use us. We have done about 10,000 hampers. We have had a huge volume of calls. We will be giving out several thousand dinners.

“That is only possible because of the kindness of people. People need us. If they didn’t we wouldn’t be here.”

Ms Twomey has called on the Government to make an extra effort with the homeless and needy in 2021.

She became emotional as she spoke of the countless service users they lost in 2020.

“We put our Christmas tree up and it is called Sarah’s Gift of Hope tree. Up on it we have baubles with photographs of people who are no longer with us. This year we added quite a lot. That was very sad for us.

“Singing Silent Night is a bit of tradition when we light up the tree.

“Everyone was feeling very sad because last year we may have put up two or three baubles of people who died but this year there was so many people. We have people up there who lost their lives through suicide. Two weeks ago we lost seven [service users] in a week in Cork.

“Today we are having some sort of Miracle on Hanover Street because we are open and have food from the River Lee Hotel. All we can do is our best.”

Christmas dinner was delivered to shelters, refuges, rough sleepers, families and persons living alone throughout the county.

Caitriona and the volunteers also set up a table on Little Hanover Street where service users arrived and took away food and clothing donated by the public.

Maintaining the festive cheer on the street was Santa, aka PJ O’Neill, who has donned the red suit annually for the last three years.

A regular volunteer he said he surprised himself by coming in peeling potatoes twice a week. He admits he gets more back in satisfaction then what he gives describing it as having been a “brutal” year for the service.

Initially Penny Dinners had hoped to host Christmas in a nearby underground car park. However, this had to be cancelled because of public health concerns.

Ms Twomey, whose service received a boost when a masked Roy Keane popped in earlier this month, says that the homeless need joy and hope everyday not just on Christmas Day.

She is appealing to the public to donate pop-up tents and sleeping bags to Penny Dinners in the coming weeks.

Caitriona admits to feeling heartbroken at seeing the very obvious decline in the homeless community since the pandemic changed the way we live our lives.

“With the lockdown people have to walk around an empty city all day long and fall asleep in the freezing cold as well. We have to keep positive and things rolling out because if they [service users] see us worried or fearful they become worried and fearful. We can see if people aren’t doing well.

“You would nearly know by looking at them who is next to die. It is more visible now because when we had people inside you would be pottering around the place and busy whereas now you are only seeing them at the door.

“You are seeing things in a different light. You can see the deterioration. People who have always maintained an upbeat attitude and accepted their lot that is absolutely gone.

“People often don’t see the point of living. There is a lot of despair.”