Demand for food parcels and free meals from hard-up householders in the run-up to Christmas is higher than this time last year.
However, voluntary organisations throughout the country say they have noted a particularly sharp rise in the number of single parents who have been forced to turn to them for free meals.
Ollie Williams, who runs Twist Soup Kitchen Ireland, said he will hand out 2,500 free meals a week from his five premises across the country over the festive season and another 250 food parcels a week from his mobile service in Galway.
He said demand overall from his meal centre operation is at its highest since opening in June 2012 — with single-parent families the most in need.
“Unfortunately, things seem to have got worse rather than better over the past 12 months and there seem to be more people than ever from all walks of life that need our help,” said Mr Williams.
“But it’s the single mothers that stand out and who seem to be having the most difficulty in feeding their families.
“Whatever the Government may be telling us about things improving, I see things from the ground level and that’s simply not the case.
“People are really struggling, particularly at this time of year, as they’re faced with ESB and heating bills, buying presents and the prospect of property and water charges next year.”
Fr John Dunphy, who set up an operation to hand out food parcels to parishioners in his Co Carlow parish of Graiguecullen just over a year ago, said that demand is up 50% on what it was last year.
“This time last year, we were giving out about 120 parcels a week of basic supplies and that’s now increased to 180,” he said.
“There’s an awful lot of people out there struggling and I see first-hand what a desperate situation many of them are in when I go round to deliver the parcels to their houses.
“There’s people going without food to pay their bills or buy clothes. From what I’ve seen single mothers are finding it particularly hard at the moment.
“We work closely with the Vincent de Paul and just before Christmas we’ll be giving out about 400 hampers and helping people out with coal and fuel vouchers.”
Volunteers at the Capuchin Day Care Centre in Dublin said that demand for their service remains as high as ever, with an average of 250 breakfasts and up to 550 free dinners served daily.
Brother Kevin Crowley said: “We handed out 2,000 food parcels on Wednesday of last week and we’d expect to be handing out around 3,000 Christmas hampers on the Tuesday before Christmas.