A new service launched by the Cornmarket Project in Wexford to address food poverty has seen more than 1,500 people attending for free food parcels.
Co-ordinator of the Cornmarket Paul Delaney said that demand for their new FoodKonnect service had taken them by surprise.
Mr Delaney said: 'We already knew from our work with those who were homeless and those affected by long term addiction issues, that there was a serious issue of food poverty in County Wexford. However, we never expected the response we have received, which has uncovered a whole new cohort of people suffering from hidden poverty.'
Since starting last June the new FoodKonnect Service has distributed over 14 tons of food, with 520 individual adults and 1,015 children availing of the service.
Mr Delaney said that the one common factor that runs through the lives of those who are attending the food bank is deprivation which can involve such things as poverty, long-term unemployment, inadequate housing or homelessness and social exclusion.
'Families who are struggling to make ends meet typically cut back on food because a food budget is easier to control than say the cost of housing or electricity. But this means that many people, including children, are going hungry just to keep a roof over their heads.'
Mr Delaney said: 'People get boxes of dry food including tinned soups, pasta, porridge and tinned vegetables to sustain them. There are negotiations ongoing with local supermarkets to source fresh vegetables and meat for the service users.'
The Cornmarket Project has always provided hot and cold food for its clients through its canteen run by a CE worker.
'We have always had a lot of clients in Wexford who are sleeping rough and the numbers have just been getting bigger and bigger.'
The FoodKonnect parcels are provided through an EU programme called FEAD (The Fund for European Aid for Most Deprived) facilitated by the Department of Social Protection.
He also emphasised that in 30 years working in this area he knows that there are definite links between addiction, either to drugs or alcohol, and deprivation.
'They are all in desperate straights. Although deprivation is often considered to be a big city issue, it is also found in the towns and smaller rural areas of County Wexford.'
Mr Delaney said it stands to reason that in Wexford, where Cornmarket has seen a year on year increase of 20 per cent in client numbers, that poverty and deprivation are part of the background to many of those whose lives have been blighted by addiction.
Responding to comments that many people availing of the new service may well be able to afford to purchase food but are opting to get it free, Mr Delaney said there will always be cynics who will say such things.
'Before we started the service I visited a number of similar services in Dublin and they all said the same thing. Anyone who is willing to queue up to receive a parcel of basic food products is in real need of help, and this is what we have found in the seven months of operating our food bank. I have handed out the parcels of food and you can see the stress and worry on their faces. You can see that they are visibly hungry.'
The service operates from their Spawell Road premises twice a week on Tuesday afternoon between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and on Friday afternoons between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Mr Delaney said that at present food parcels are also being distributed from their other premises in Gorey, Enniscorthy and New Ross on an individual request basis, but that they intend to also have an open public service for these areas in the coming months.
'The new service operates on the basis of confidentiality and respect. Anyone who is in need is welcome to avail of the food bank and no intrusive questions are asked by the trained staff who distribute the food parcels to people across the county.'