Charities struggling to cope with record demand for food parcels
WHEN the recession hit, Benny Donnelly found himself in the same position as thousands of other self-employed people. All of a sudden, the phone stopped ringing and the jobs dried up.
Mr Donnelly, a tiler by trade, then moved from his home city of Kilkenny to Dublin in the hope of finding work, but nothing materialised.
And as his money ran out, he found himself living on the streets of the capital.
"I was on the street for about eight months in total," the 37-year-old told the Sunday Independent.
"I lived in a car park. I went to bed at night and woke up in the morning. It was out by the Barge Pub in Ranelagh. There's a building across the road from that with a car park underneath."
Mr Donnelly tried to make the best of his circumstances.
"I was grand in there, not a bother. There was nobody ever in there. The only people in there were the foxes."
His is only one among hundreds of stories from Brother Kevin Crowley's Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin 7.
The centre is encountering more and more "new poor" -- people who lost their jobs in recent times and can't make ends meet.
Among them are professionals like architects and business people who can't find work.
"There is a certain amount of fear and anxiety and they're afraid even to talk about it and ashamed to talk about it.
"We have men who have a broken up marriage and they're walking a distance here to feed their children," Brother Crowley told the Sunday Independent.
Volunteers at the Capuchin Day Centre said they had never been as busy in their 44-year history.
Workers at the facility are providing 250 breakfasts every day and between 450 and 500 free dinners.
And they said they expected to hand out 3,000 Christmas hampers to the needy in the coming days.
Brother Crowley added: "Demand is very high and things are definitely worse for people than they were this time last year.
"Thankfully the public have been very generous with donations and that's kept us going and helped us start up a dental clinic here earlier this month."
He added: "It's no longer just homeless people who come here to be fed. There's lots of families, with children, who have no other choice but to come here. We're seeing a lot of unemployed people and others who are on the verge of losing their homes."
Demand for food parcels and free meals from soup kitchens across Ireland this Christmas has hit its highest level for years.
Charities say they expect thousands more hard-up householders to turn to them over the festive season than was the case over the same period last year.
Fr John Dunphy, parish priest of Graiguecullen, Co Carlow, is so concerned by the numbers of parishioners calling to his door for food that he is busy setting up the town's first meal centre.
But for the past two months, Fr Dunphy has been handing out food parcels every week -- with the numbers turning to him for help increasing on a weekly basis.
He said: "At the moment we're giving out about 120 parcels a week, which contain basic supplies like tea, sugar, porridge, pasta, soap, tinned meat, beans and peas.
"Thankfully we've a huge amount of volunteers helping out and donations have been very generous.
'Demand is very high and things are definitely worse for people than they were this time last year'
"But unfortunately there's a huge need for this and the numbers looking for food parcels are increasing every week. It's not just people from Graiguecullen who are turning to us, but people from all over Co Carlow and a lot of them are mothers with children, who are struggling or unemployed.
"We're hoping to set up the soup kitchen early next year. It's unfortunate we have to do it, but a lot of people need help at the moment."
Meanwhile, Twist Soup Kitchen Ireland, a growing meal centre operation, handed out 2,600 free meals last week across its six outlets -- the most dinners it has served since opening in June last year.
Ollie Williams, the charity's founder, said he's hoping to open up his seventh premises in Ballina, Co Mayo, before the end of the year.
And he said demand was so high, including from people who rely on his mobile delivery service in Galway, that he is considering opening up his centres on Christmas Day.
"The numbers coming to us just keep on going up, unfortunately. There are still so many people out there, from all walks of life, that need our help," he said.