150-year Quaker connection to Penny Dinners ends

The resignation of a senior figure from Cork’s Penny Dinners charity has ended a 150-year Quaker link to the soup kitchen.

Florence Harrison, a member of the Religious Society of Friends, last night confirmed she has resigned from her voluntary position on the committee which runs the Quaker-founded soup kitchen.

Her decision means there is now no Quaker presence on the Penny Dinners’ committee for the first time since its foundation in Famine times.

“There has always been a Quaker on the committee since it was founded. It is sad, but the charity is non-denominational and it still has a Quaker ethos,” Ms Harrison said last night.

Founded in the 1840s, Penny Dinners is one of Cork’s oldest independent caring organisations, offering a nourishing hot midday meal, as well as takeaway sandwiches and fresh fruit, to people in need.

Ms Harrison said she had seen huge changes in the charity since she joined the committee four years ago, following in the footsteps of the late Betty Houghton, who hserved on the committee for 50 years.

In 2008, the soup kitchen was serving meals to between 20 and 30 people a day. It is now cooking and serving almost 900 meals a week, 365 days a year.

“The charity has been transformed during my time on the committee,” said Ms Harrison.

“That level of demand changes a charity totally. And you can’t do that without a lot of support. I’m turning down volunteers every day. So many people want to help.

“The expression ‘Cork looks after its own’ was certainly magnified in Penny Dinners where everyone wants to help.”

Penny Dinners, which won a Rehab People of the Year award in September, fed 85 people, mainly single men, last Christmas Day and expects to feed even more next Tuesday.

The charity is one of several “unsung heroes” to feature in a programme on TV3 tonight highlighting the dedication and compassion of Ireland’s volunteers.

The spotlight will also focus on Team Hope, the boys and girls of Cork charity, Share, the RNLI, Christmas FM, and The Gospel Choir of Gardiner Street Church.

Team Hope works with primary school children to prepare more than 2.5m shoe boxes packed with presents for children in need in 22 countries.

The programme will also feature Antoinette Norris, a single mother of five, whose daughter, Demi, 16, has Conn’s syndrome, and whose son, Adam, four, has autism. Her eldest daughter, Amanda, and son, Sam, 14, help her care for their siblings. They have both won young carers of the year awards.

Paul Byrne, TV3’s southern correspondent, who was the assistant producer of the show, said: “The people we interviewed are an inspiration.

“Seeing them in action, doing this work not for fame or glory, but because they care, makes you stop and think how lucky we are to have volunteers like this in society today.”

* Unsung Heroes at Christmas airs on TV3 tonight at 8pm.

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