When Dermot Richardson and his partner, Katherine McKenna, decided to serve Christmas dinner to the homeless in their community in Tallaght, Dublin, they expected it to be a small affair.
“It’s our first time doing something like this. We had direct contact with some homeless people who are sleeping in Tallaght. I thought it was going to be 20 or 30 people,” McKenna said.
Then the primary school teacher posted what she thought was a private message on Facebook. It turned out to be public.
“The next morning, I woke up and it had 1,500 likes and 200 shares. It just went viral overnight. It was an accident, but I don’t believe in accidents. It was meant to happen.”
She and Richardson, a South Dublin County Councillor, have had a steady stream of phone calls since then from people wanting to get involved. “We both have to charge our phones at least four times a day,” she said.
They are still trying to pin down the numbers, but they now expect to serve dinner to hundreds of people on Christmas Day.
Richardson owns and manages Tallaght Adventure World, a children’s play centre where the dinner will be held.
His motivation for organising the event comes from personal experience. “My mum struggled when I was young and got great help from St Vincent de Paul. There is help out there for people.”
By South Dublin County Council’s last count in November, there were 230 people on the homeless register in the area. That number includes 67 families.
The council has made 114 housing allocations since the beginning of this year.
According to Focus Ireland in Tallaght, between 25 and 40 local homeless people use its drop-in advice service every month.
“I’m a new councillor, and I want to make a change. I’m getting calls every day from people who have lost their homes or are having trouble finding homes. Landlords won’t take rent allowances. They just can’t find anywhere to live,” Richardson said.
He and McKenna decided to provide “a hot meal on the day and some sort of comfort” for people struggling in their community.
He said South Dublin County Council had put a number of homeless families up at nearby Bewley's Hotel. "They don't have proper cooking facilities on the day to provide Christmas dinner."
He hopes to target people in hostel accommodation who do not have kitchens.
Gardaí will operate a community bus to pick up and drop off guests. Gardaí and the local fire brigade are also invited to dinner.
“It can be a lonely day for people who are working as well,” McKenna said.
She has taken “a lot” of calls from single parents. “When there’s a separated family and one parent is handing a child over to another parent, they’re isolated. They’re part of the audience we’re targeting: people who are isolated and lonely on the day.”
Volunteers lined up
They have a fleet of volunteers lined up. “We have enough volunteers right now. Probably too many,” Richardson said.
However, they are still looking for people to provide live music.
One of the volunteers is Joan Hunt, from Sandyford in Dublin. She saw the event on Facebook and decided to get involved.
“My husband died three years ago, around this time of year. We didn’t have kids, so for the last couple years I’ve spent Christmas with my sister and her family. But she’s a nurse and is actually working this Christmas night,” she said.
“I think there are a lot of other people in my situation who can head out and help, and are very happy to do so.”
Three chefs will donate their time on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Richardson and McKenna do not have Government funding and are relying on private donations, from businesses and individuals. They hope to collect enough to offer everyone a gift as well.
The Christmas dinner is on December 25th between 1:30pm and 4:30pm at Tallaght Adventure World. info@ tallaghtadventureworld.ie.