THE Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin supplied food parcels to 1,540 people last Thursday – not a record, but an indication that poverty levels remain at their highest since the centre opened over 40 years ago.
The record for food-parcel handouts was in the week before Christmas, when 2,700 were handed out. Aside from the Christmas week, the previous high was in the second week in December, when 1,800 parcels were given out. In the last week in March, the care centre handed 1,590 to people who called looking for the parcels of enough staples for a week and a single meal.
The figures are more than treble the amount the centre was providing at the start of the recession.
Alan Bailey, the centre manager, said the numbers of those coming to collect the parcels reflected the continuing high degree of poverty.
"People don't chose to queue in the rain and snow if they are not in real need. We continue to deal with large numbers of food-poor people."
The centre asks no questions of recipients and asked this newspaper that the privacy of those receiving food be respected. There was deep upset recently when television cameras turned up to film people queuing in the snow for food.
Many of those in receipt of food are what the centre termed the "new poor", people who lost their jobs or had their incomes drastically reduced but who still have homes and children. They are chronically shy about exposure, staff at the centre say.
Each day the 20 staff and 100 volunteers provided breakfast and lunch for between 800 and 900 people, Mr Bailey said. Some 200 to 300 turn up for breakfast and usually between 400 and 600 turn up for lunch. On Thursday, there were 540 for lunch.
Mr Bailey, a retired detective, said: "Our budget now is around €2.1m. We get a grant of a little over €400,000 but that has not gone up since the recession began. We don't hire fundraisers, we can't afford to, and depend on other people to raise money for us.
"People are just great. They are always running, cycling and climbing mountains for us. We get donations from €5 to €5,000 and more from people who just drop in."
As he was speaking, the son of a Dail employee dropped in €53 in coins which staff in Kildare Street had put in a collection box. Gardai from the Bridewell station, who last year raised money from staging John B Keane's The Chastitute in the nearby St Michan's Church, are among the most active fundraisers for the Capuchin Centre.
Mr Bailey added: "It is a reflection of people's generosity that we are still open. We also have over 100 people who volunteer."
He said the "open door" policy adopted from the opening of the centre by Brother Kevin Crowley, of not questioning anyone who turns up looking for food, continued.
"We are completely non-judgemental," Mr Bailey said. "We have many people who came here, from Eastern Europe mainly, who lost their jobs but who are like the Irish were in Britain, out of work and with no one to go home to.
"We provide medical cover and we have showers for personal hygiene. We provide underwear and stockings to anybody that asks."
When the centre opened in the late 1960s, it provided food and sandwiches for about 50 people a day. Numbers swelled in the 1970s as many of the country's psychiatric hospitals closed and many people with social and mental problems found themselves on the streets.
In the 1980s, numbers rose again with the 'redevelopment' of the traditional working-class housing areas of the city centre, with many families breaking up. The centre became one of the few places in the city that fed drug addicts from the 1990s onwards and it still provides food and assistance for many addicts.
But the advent of recession has pushed the centre to previously unimagined lengths. In 2007, it received €270,000 in donations on top of the €400,000 State grant. In 2008 people donated €350,000 and the centre was feeding between 400 and 500 people a day. This year, having to feed almost double those numbers and with the State grant still at the same levels, it will have to raise around €1.6m.