‘We have tonnes and tonnes of aid’ - Cork charity travels to Polish border

Volunteers will make the journey with 12 tonnes of medical supplies and aid for refugees

Catriona Twomey, of Cork Penny Dinners, is following in the footsteps of her late mother Breda Lynch in making the arduous journey to a war torn area to distribute aid. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

A Cork woman who has fed thousands of homeless and needy people as the head of a soup kitchen is travelling to the Polish-Ukrainian border this week to distribute twelve tonnes of medical supplies and aid to refugees.

Catriona Twomey, of Cork Penny Dinners, is following in the footsteps of her late mother Breda Lynch in making the arduous journey to a war-torn area to distribute aid.

"I am used to this in my family. My father served in Congo and my mother went to Kosovo [with humanitarian aid.] My late mother would expect this of my me. I know she would be thrilled," says Ms Twomey.

Caitriona Twomey and Chris O’Donovan and members of Cork Search and Rescue in the Collection Point of the North Cathedral Visitor Centre. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Members of Cork Search and Rescue loading up emergency supplies at the Collection Point of the North Cathedral Visitor Centre. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

“I have organisational skills from Penny Dinners and I dig my heels in. We have a plan and we will get this done.”

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Cork Humanitarian Aid Ireland is comprised of local volunteers from Cork Missing Persons Search and Recovery (CCMPSAR) and Penny Dinners. They are working with the Redemptorist order in Ukraine to bring five vans of aid to refugees.

The aim is to travel via an unofficial “green corridor” visiting 15 chosen locations one of which includes an orphanage. Some 11 volunteers will make the journey overseas via ferry and road on Tuesday.

Ms Twomey says they have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community with large donations of nappies, medicine, flashlights, batteries and powerbanks being received.

Church of Ireland Bishop in Cork, Cloyne and Ross Dr Paul Colton met Ms Twomey at the Cork Person of the Year awards last Friday where the grandmother and mother of seven was given the "Hall of Fame" award.

By the end of the lunch clergy and diocesan employees on his WhatsApp group had committed enough funds to cover the ferry costs of the five vans which are going on the mission.

Ms Twomey says that it is vitally important to have a plan in place for a trip like this.

"We have people on the ground to meet us. Meeting the Redemptorists will be fabulous as they have safe passage. You don't leave anything to chance. We have back up plans.

“We have tonnes and tonnes of aid. The response is unbelievable. It will always blow you away. The amount of good wishes is phenomenal. We have somebody sponsoring the fuel.

“We are prepared for it to be tough. I get very passionate and focused and I see that through. People are afraid to follow their dreams. But for something like this you put a plan in place and follow it through. I really feel my mother would love this.”

Driving force

Meanwhile, volunteer Christy O’Donovan, who is the driving force behind the project, has worked for 18 hours a day over the last few days to get the goods ready for transportation overseas.

"I am getting only a couple of hours sleep a night. The phone is going all the time. This will be my first trip to Ukraine but I have been in Bosnia four times and to Kosovo, Romania, Chernobyl and in to Albania.

“You would be a fool not to be nervous but we have been in conflict zones before and have experience. We have people on the Polish border and they are sending us back videos of women and children crying,” he said.

“We expect to be on the road for around eight days. My wife thinks I am a bit nuts. We were watching the TV and she said ‘how long is it before you will go?’ She knows me well. She knows I couldn’t just sit and watch it.”

Donations of baby clothes, medical supplies, baby formula, nappies, baby bottles, soothers, sanitary products and other items such as flashlights, matches, batteries and power banks can still be dropped in to the North Cathedral Visitor Centre in Shandon, Cork on Monday.

The Catholic Bishop of Ross, Most Rev Fintan Gavin has allowed volunteers the use of the centre for collecting items from the public. Donations can also be handed in to Penny Dinners on Little Hanover Street in the city.

Last minute cash donations can also be made to CCMPSAR with the donation marked “Ukrainian appeal” at IBAN : IE80 AIBK 9343 48641730 41 and BIC AIBKIE2D. Alternatively Mr O’Donovan can be contacted on 087 696 1885.