'You can see how the harshness of poverty has got to them': Penny Dinners feeding 2,000 a week

A charity which feeds the homeless in Cork is providing up to 2,000 dinners a week up from a figure of just 80 to 100 in the Celtic Tiger years.

Caitriona Twomey, who runs Penny Dinners in Little Hanover Street, says they also make up hampers for the needy in addition to assisting homeless people who are being accommodated in temporary accommodation.

Caitriona says they can readily identify who is at risk of dying on the streets at any given time.

You are only waiting until you hear something. You can see it in their faces. You can see how the harshness of poverty has got to them. How the cold has got to them. And how the despondency and fear take control. We have seen people deteriorate.

We have had people come in with cancer and how can they possibly get better without nutritious food? So we give them what they need.

We have people going for tests that don’t have clothes for hospital. There is nobody to bring them socks, underwear or sanitary products.

Ms Twomey says that they have service users with conditions such as diabetes who are hungry when enter the facility. Their blood sugars become an issue after eating and staff onsite work to regulate their condition.

She says she tries to let people know that there is life after homelessness and that a change of circumstances is possible.

“When people are given a leg up they come on and they thrive. They respect what they have and they protect and look after it. They are great members of society. They are even great members of society when they are down on their luck.”

Ms Twomey says they have lost a few of their service users this year to homelessness and ill health. They are being honoured on a fundraising remembrance tree which is on display in the building.

Caitriona Twomey in Penny Dinners

“There is Dublin John and Paul and lots of others and we are adding their photographs to the tree this year. This is the first time we have put people who have died on the streets on the tree.

It is very sad that we have photographs of people who died on the streets on the tree. It is a stark reminder that Christmas is a sad and lonely time for people.”

She added that the situation is “beyond a crisis” in Cork.

They are continuously giving out duvets to the homeless and are looking at providing hot meals to people on the streets.

“Normally we come back at night for sandwiches to hand out but it was so cold last night that we went in to a takeaway and we got burgers and tea because they needed hot food.

We are going to make a decision on that as well shortly if we are going to bring hot food around to them. Because it is quite cold. If you do fall asleep in this bitter cold you are going to wake up earlier. It is tough, hard and cruel. It has to stop.”

Caitriona is continuously inundated with requests to help the needy in society. She is asking members of the public to donate Christmas gifts of clothing and toys which be distributed across the city.

Anyone who would like to make a financial donation to Penny Dinners can do so here.

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