Meet the people who will be volunteering at Cork Penny Dinners on Christmas Day

Caitriona Twomey with the kitchen staff at Cork Penny Dinners on Little Hanover Street. Picture Dan Linehan

Christmas morning at Little Hanover St begins at 6am.

As families across the country awake to the most magical day of the year, the first volunteers at Cork Penny Dinners arrive to prepare a special Christmas dinner for those less fortunate.

The promise is simple: anyone who calls in hungry will be given a traditional dinner of turkey and ham, with cranberry sauce and all the trimmings.

The guest of honour this year will none other than Santa Claus himself.

Santa will arrive by train at 11.57am into Cork’s Kent Station. There, he’ll alight from the Cork Penny Dinners Polar Express and board a sleigh for 4 Little Hanover Street.

Video by Dan  Linehan.

Time was when Christmas dinner at Cork’s oldest charity was like every other meal here and was prepared from scratch by volunteers on the day. But recently demand has become so intense that the River Lee Hotel has stepped in to help, supplying the dinners ready-made.

Last Christmas Day, Cork Penny Dinners served over 200 Christmas dinners. This year, that figure will be even higher. General manager of the River Lee Hotel, Ruairi O’Connor, modestly says that the hotel and its staff get back far more than they put in and their contribution is the least they can do.

Catriona Twomey, Penny Dinners’ co-ordinator, disagrees and says that the Christmas Day demand is such now that they simply couldn’t manage without the kindness of the River Lee Hotel staff.

It’s not just Christmastime, though, that sees this charity under pressure. Back in 2012, Cork Penny Dinners served about 100 meals every week. Now they’re serving nearly 2,000 every single week. That’s a staggering increase.

What’s more, Penny Dinners volunteers say they are serving meals now to people they never saw before, not “just” homeless people or “just” those with drug or alcohol dependency.

Jack Kenny working in the kitchen at Cork Penny Dinners. Picture: Dan Linehan
Jack Kenny working in the kitchen at Cork Penny Dinners. Picture: Dan Linehan

Now they are feeding people too who have jobs, families with small children, people just about paying their mortgage or meeting the rent and who can’t afford food. Penny Dinners also supplies a weekly shop to several households, literally to put food on the family table.

And it’s not just Penny Dinners. All over Cork city, volunteers will move heaven and Earth to make this Christmas a special time for everyone.

Togher Meals On Wheels celebrates its 40th anniversary in March 2017, and this Christmas Day its volunteers will prepare and deliver meals to homes across Togher.

Douglas Meals on Wheels serves over 600 meals a month and will operate over the Christmas period. The Lough Meals on Wheels says it is Cork’s busiest such provider, serving 76 meals a day. They will operate over Christmas too.

Christmas Day, like every other day, will see Cork Simon Community staff and volunteers hard at work.

“Since the beginning of this year, an average of 54 people per night have been staying in a Cork Simon emergency bed — our shelter normally accommodates 44 people,” says Sophie Johnston of Cork Simon.

“Operating at 115% capacity most nights, we take in as many people as we safely can.”

In the Simon shelter, over 100 Christmas dinners will be served and every effort will be made to make the day as festive as possible, with staff and volunteers very much aware of how difficult a time of year this can be. There will be live music and a present for everyone.

This Christmas Day, when Santa arrives at Cork Penny Dinners, he will find the party already in full swing. Music and song will be provided by very special guests the High Hopes Choir and by rising Cork star Jack O’Rourke.

In addition to gifts, there will be a household hamper for everyone and a care pack too. These care packs will include gloves, hats, scarves, socks and toiletries.

“We try to make everybody feel special on what could be the loneliest day of the year,” says Catriona Twomey.

“Nobody should ever, ever be lonely. Not on Christmas Day.”

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