‘When people are struggling, food is the only thing you can cut’

Volunteer Kate Durrant is part of a group delivering food parcels to families every week

SVP volunteers in Cork who deliver food parcels to 200 families every week: Niall Hendrick, John Murray, Eamonn MacAmhlaoibh, Annette Butler, Kate Durrant and John McGregor.

SVP volunteers in Cork who deliver food parcels to 200 families every week: Niall Hendrick, John Murray, Eamonn MacAmhlaoibh, Annette Butler, Kate Durrant and John McGregor.

 

Kate Durrant delivers food parcels every week to families with young children whose bare fridges and cupboards don’t even contain a scraped-out jar of jam.

“When people are struggling, food is the only thing you can cut,” she says.

“You can’t not pay your rent, you can’t not put money in the meter. The only place you can cut back is the shopping bill, and the effects are horrendous.”

Four years ago, Durrant, a small newspaper publisher living in Blarney, Co Cork, and a handful of others set up a St Vincent de Paul (SVP) “conference” – a local committee that acts as foot soldiers, bringing food to some of the worst-off families in Ireland.

The operation started as half a dozen food parcels in the back of her car.

More than 200 families this week and every week – and more than 2,500 at Christmas – now rely on Durrant and her colleagues to keep them from going hungry, across Cork city and county but predominately in the built up areas of the city’s northside.

Before I was lucky enough to get involved in this, when you don’t see it, you think surely people can manage. You’re very judgmental

Every weekday, the small band of volunteers pack fresh meat, cheese, juice, tinned fish, crackers and cold meats, collected from a hub run by not-for-profit distributors FoodCloud and kept at their own warehouse, into boxes for delivery. If there are babies in a household, they’ll include some nappies and baby food too.

It is not everything a family needs “but enough to get by on”, says Durrant.

‘Like Santa’

On their rounds, they call at houses identified by SVP, which sends out someone to assess a family’s needs after being contacted for help. Some are regulars with long-standing problems, others need help temporarily – an illness, for example, often leaves people with little or no income.

People queue outside the Capuchin Centre in Dublin on Thursday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
People queue outside the Capuchin Centre in Dublin in 2016. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

“We deliver to houses where you open the fridge, and there is literally nothing in there,” says Durrant.“Nothing. Not even a scraped-out jar of jam.

“When you are living on such a low income, if something happens that week, an extra €10 is needed for something, that is life-changing. It can be hard for most to fathom.”

Children are thrilled to see them coming and treat them “like Santa” walking in the door.

For the parents though, it is tough watching somebody else provide food for their children.

“That is not easy to take,” Durrant points out.

Without food parcels, they would be forced to look at ways of earning money “they would never normally think of doing” or fall into the clutches of moneylenders.

“There aren’t any other options. It is tragic.

“Before I was lucky enough to get involved in this, when you don’t see it, you think surely people can manage. You’re very judgmental. Then you see it. And it humbles you. It continues to humble me.”