independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Just around corner from festive shoppers, poor get food parcels

ON a small side street – 10 minutes' walk from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, where Christmas shoppers are soaking up the festive sights, and carols are merrily playing – a quieter crowd has gathered.

Outside the Capuchin Day Centre on Dublin's Bow Street, staff are handing out bags of vital groceries for those most in need in our society.

The bags contain tea, milk, yoghurts, cheese and a breakfast pack of rashers and sausages, among other items.

For the 1,779 people who received these weekly food parcels yesterday, these provisions literally constitute the fine line between poverty and actual hunger.

During the boom, just around 400 people were forced to seek this help.

This rose to around 900 people two years ago. Staff at the centre say demand has grown steadily since last January.

"We see a lot of the 'food poor' that the authorities talk about," said Theresa Dolan, who works at the centre. Child poverty is also very visible, she says.

By the time the CSO releases new figures, she says, the Capuchin Day Centre already knows the stark reality of the statistics by the lengthening of the queue at their door.

It might be budget day – but Theresa points out that most of the people who come regularly to the centre have never known anything other than austerity.

Later in the day, a crowd gathers again at the centre, this time for the dinner service between 1pm and 3pm, when a hot meal of beef, gravy, mashed potatoes and cabbage has been prepared for the 500 patrons. People eat hungrily – this is their only decent meal of the day.

Many of those queuing up would never be picked out on the street as being in need. Some are not strictly homeless but are finding great difficulty in making ends meet in these straitened times.

Then there are those sleeping rough, backpacks and sleeping bags slung on their backs. These people eat the most hungrily of all. In the mornings, they avail of shower facilities at the centre.

Worse

There are also many men and women from Eastern Europe, a Roma gypsy woman with a little baby in a fabric sling and a Brazilian woman with her child in a buggy.

Many of these people came to Ireland attracted by the high wages of the boom, but have now become trapped here.

"They say that if they go home things will be worse, but I do wonder," says Theresa.

At a table in the corner, two women who haven't seen one another in years are catching up. One of the women spent years sleeping rough, but is now living in a flat provided by Focus Ireland.

She is thankful to be off the streets. The nights were worst, she said, when she hardly dared sleep at all for fear of being attacked – and so she just sat on her bag. Having her own flat is great but paying bills is difficult, she admits.

She has a 15-year-old son in foster care and wants to buy him a gift for Christmas and so she has held off paying an electricity bill so that she can keep something by.

"It's lucky we have this place to come to, because some days we'd have no dinner," she says, and her friend nods.

"I don't know how we'd manage."

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