Feed Cork, a food bank and cafe that fights food poverty Leeside has seen more than a two-thirds increase in demand for its services since the Covid-19 crisis.
And this surge is among people who never had to use the service before, Sharon Mullins, volunteer co-ordinator with the charity said.
Feed Cork will deliver at least 250 food parcels this week, mostly around Cork City but with some deliveries stretching out as far as 30km to Bandon.
“Demand is unprecedented,” Ms Mullins said.
“A lot of our new clients were surviving from week to week but delays in processing Covid-19 social welfare payments and a drop in salaries mean they have to turn to services like ours to feed their children.
“The people we’re hearing from are desperate.
“A lot of people are saying that with the kids at home all the time, the oven is constantly on and the fridge door is always open.
“Social welfare payments are being paid every two weeks instead of weekly now and not everyone can manage money. Especially if people have kids, that double payment can go very quickly.”
Ms Mullins said that the service is delivering food parcels to everyone from cocooning elderly, to struggling families to students trapped in Cork by the lockdown.
“One mum we deliver to now has two children with underlying health conditions. She can’t leave the house and she had just moved to a new area with no local support.
“And we’re delivering to students who came here to learn English just before the lockdown. They’re paying atrocious rents, their school is closed, their money is running out and they can’t work. We have to text so they can use Google Translate to arrange the delivery.
“And some people needed us while they were waiting for Covid payments for almost three weeks. The Government has been doing its best but it takes a while to do things.”
The service was under such pressure from surging demand that it needed an extra industrial fridge and freezer to store the food safely, which was a major concern until supermarket chain Lidl donated the much needed white goods yesterday.
“I’m so happy I could cry,” Ms Mullins said on hearing the news.
“We didn’t want our standards to slip. As well as non-perishables, we buy one fresh meat, dairy and veg for each hamper and it’s important that it’s stored correctly.”
Food Cloud, M&S, Tesco and Aldi are regular donors, and smaller producers like Brook Foods have come on board recently, donating individually packed lasagne and garlic bread to help vulnerable people get through the pandemic.
“We’re completely run by volunteers,” Ms Mullins said.
“We operate under the radar, you only realise that we’re there when you need us. We have our dream team of about 10 people who sort out all the food at the centre now.
“People usually collect the hamper and stop to chat in our cafe. But now the centre is closed and the food is delivered. Deliveries were never part of the plan, but luckily we have two vans.
“I call people to see how they’re doing every week and a lot of people are really lonely. I’ve referred some of them to the Cork City Council helpline to link in with other services. Seeing the community response in Cork has been really encouraging.”
Ms Mullins, who volunteers 25 hours each week, won South City Volunteer of the Year in 2019 for her work with Feed Cork. She said that there’s never been a better time to volunteer.
“This is a great time to get involved and if you’re off work anyway you can really add to your CV,” she said.
If you need support from Feed Cork, call 089 226 9408.
To donate to the charity, go to feedcork.com/donate .