Busy at work on a Friday morning at Clonmel Soup Kitchen were volunteers: Johnny O'Callaghan, Anne Kerton, Seamie Cagney, Ina Doyle and Edwina McGrath .
To put it simply, in life there is no need more vital for survival than the need for food. And with that basic necessity of survival in mind it is somewhat disturbing to contemplate on the fact that in south Tipperary alone, at this present time, over 100 families and individuals have a need to avail of food parcels on a weekly basis to get by.
The problem of feeding the needy has been with us always since time began and it will remain that way. Resultantly to an extent, because of its perpetuity, we have become numb and somewhat mentally insulated as to its effects and consequences. But when you see the problem first hand, in 2021, on the streets of Clonmel, food parcels being gladly donated, and more-gladly accepted, it all comes home to roost.
Getting down to serve that basic level of need in society, feeding the food-poor, is an absolute necessity, and in the Clonmel Community Soup Kitchen and Free Food Bank there is one such group of volunteers taking up that noble cause.
In existence now for the past seven years, six of which have been at the Clonmel Railway Station, the Soup Kitchen volunteers are now appealing urgently for assistance, especially for foodstuffs, to allow them to continue with the work they carry out on behalf of all of us.
According to Ina Doyle, who heads up the group of helpers, the demand on their services has increased noticeably over the past year or so.
“The situation is definitely getting a lot worse out there” she began, “there are a lot more people in difficulty at present, right now, people with houses trying to pay mortgages, people without jobs since Covid and indeed beforehand, and even people with jobs today too. It’s not easy for a lot of people, and we can only help in our own little way,” said Ina.
“Since the downturn in the economy, especially since Covid, we have been much busier and there are a lot more people looking for that little helping hand that we give them. It is very hard for people to ask for food, there’s no doubt about that, so this is why my number is always there for anyone who wants to ring me and it is all 100% confidential always,” she assured.
Clonmel Soup Kitchen volunteers Edwina McGrath and Anne Kerton.
THE WORK THROUGHOUT SOUTH TIPPERARY
I asked Ina to put a ballpark figure on the numbers who might be availing of the Soup Kitchen in the general south Tipperary area.
“You could be talking about 70 families alone from around the town of Clonmel, and then we have Fethard, Cahir, Carrick-on-Suir. It’s for anyone, anywhere, that might need it to be honest, and we can travel with food for them if need be. I suppose in total it’s 100 or a little over 100 bags once a week everywhere included,” she said.
The service originally began operating on The Quays in Clonmel, near the former Clonmel Arms, Ina and her fellow volunteers, handing out soup and sandwiches from the backs of their cars. Within a short space of time the highly commendable work that they were undertaking was recognised and the group were offered the use of the Café at Post 24 IUNVA Centre at Clonmel Railway Station, from which they have been operating ever since. The group remain eternally grateful to the late Michael Haslam who was instrumental in their moving to the IUNVA Centre at the Railway Station.
“That move to a permanent place in itself was a huge step for us, and we are very grateful to the IUNVA Post 24 Volunteers group who have supported us with the use of the facilities free of charge. And it’s brilliant really because we have the use of both the store room and the cafe to make up our grocery bags and store our dry goods” said Ina, herself originally from Boherlahan but now a long time living in Clonmel.
The service is based on mutual respect and trust, and on total confidentiality at all times. The group is asked to give and they do so on behalf of others, it couldn’t be simpler.
“We provide a service for everybody and anybody that needs it, plain and simple, for anybody who gets into difficulty, whether they have been let go from their jobs, or maybe have a problem with their mortgage, or have simply fallen on hard times, people that might need a little helping hand,” she explained with empathy.
“And it’s easy to get in touch with us. We are always there to help in whatever little way we can. We can be contacted at 087 3201256,” she added.
Of course, the Soup Kitchen volunteers see themselves as no more than a conduit, middle women and middle men, passing on the foodstuffs and other goods which were previously donated to them. They can only give out what they themselves receive and Ina was quick to make that point.
A regular Friday morning at the Clonmel Soup Kitchen at the Railway Station with the pre-prepared bags ready to be collected.
WHERE ALL THE FOOD COMES FROM
“Most of the food is donated to us by the supermarkets, like Aldi donate, Lidl donate, Tesco donate every Tuesday night, and any other donations that come in here on a Friday morning. You’d be amazed, lots of people, donors, come here every Friday morning and leave a box or a bag of food with different kinds of items in each one. Their donations all help to fill bags for us to hand out,” she said.
The Soup Kitchen is also hugely grateful to Dunnes Stores in Oakville, Clonmel, who do a trolley collection once a month for them. Nuala Hickey at Hickey’s Bakery at the Westgate has been very generous to the volunteers also, donating bread each Saturday. Big industry also rallies behind the work the group does, Camida, Boston Scientific and Abbott, Questrum, the Credit Union, John and Liz Nallen at Hotel Minella, and other local voluntary groups have been very supportive since the Soup Kitchen began operating.
“We also make a run to Cork one night a week to the Foodhub down in Little Island and they would give us any surplus food that they might have available. It could be anything any week, like rice, tea, biscuits, but we are glad of it. It all helps. Sometimes you could have a full van coming back or it might only be half full, but it is all extra food,” she said.
“We make up the food parcels here and they generally consist of tinned food, peas, beans, pasta, packets of soup, bags of rice, cereal boxes, tea, sugar, coffee, frozen meats and bread, and indeed anything extra that comes in, we put into each bag,” added Ina.
And the amazing generosity of the general public was acknowledged also.
“People are actually really really good at bringing in stuff for us to pass on. People just want to do it, they don’t want any recognition or anything like that, they simply want to help in their own private way,” added Ina.
The service operates twice a week but Ina will talk to anyone any day of the week, hunger isn’t something that can wait.
THE SERVICE THE GROUP PROVIDES
“We operate twice a week. We are here from 5.30 to 7 every Tuesday night and again on Friday mornings from 9.30 to 12.30. We also meet on a Thursday morning to make up the bags between 11 and 12 o’clock, so if anybody ever does want to donate anything they can do so as we are here for that hour each Thursday morning. The parcels are given out through the hatch on a Tuesday night or Friday morning because the building is closed to the public at the moment with Covid and everything else,” Ina explained.
“And the service we provide is open to anybody who feels they might need a helping hand at the moment. People do fall on hard times, through loss of a job, sometimes there might be no one at all working in a house, so they would avail of the food parcels. Or indeed, it could be somebody just literally needing a little bit extra at that point in time, food they simply haven’t got for themselves. They are very welcome to come up here and get it,” added Ina.
“We also have toiletries to put into the bags. These are often donated from shops or from the public bringing in donations to us. So these will go into the parcels maybe once a month or so, depending on what we have at any given time,” she continued.
Of course, Ina was at pains to point out that this wasn’t just about her, and she heaped tremendous praise on all the others who play a big part in providing this necessary service throughout south Tipperary.
“We have a brilliant team of volunteers here helping out. This morning, as you can see, we have Seamie Cagney who has been here since Day 1 and Anne Kerton who has been here since Day 1. There’s also Edwina McGrath, and Johnny O’Callaghan, here today, Johnny does our deliveries as well on the Friday mornings, and he too has been with us since we started. They are all wonderful people, they’re here every weekend and every night that we need them, just pick up the phone and they’re here. They’re excellent,” said Ina who couldn’t say enough about her fellow volunteers.
There are others also involved in the group’s vital work since the outset such as Amanda, Lorna, Sam, and Anna Quigley, (and Amanda’s late partner Robert Fahey), and Paddy Hackett, more recently David Burke and Jane O’Keeffe, and over the last number of years the ‘Tuesday night volunteers,’ Teresa Johnson, Eoin O’Flaherty and Pat English. However, generally the Soup Kitchen are a group who do their work away from the public eye and never seek any credit for it. They are a wonderful group of ‘Unsung Heroes’, one and all.
And if there is anyone out there who might have some spare time on their hands....
“Look, you always need an extra little pair of hands, so if there is anyone out there who would want to help out, that’s no problem. They can contact me on my number. It would be brilliant,” added Ina.
Taking a break from their duties for a quick photo were three of the founding volunteers of Clonmel Community Soup Kitchen and Free Food Bank - Seamie Cagney, Johnny O’Callaghan and Ina Doyle.
APPEAL FOR FOOD AND ASSISTANCE
However, sourcing volunteers isn’t exactly the priority at the moment for the Clonmel Community Soup Kitchen and Free Food Bank, according to Ina.
“What we could do with and you can see for yourself here that our stock is running extremely low right now. This store room is normally packed to the top. All those shelves are normally stocked up with food but our supplies are gone right down at the moment,” cautioned Ina.
“On top there, you can see where we stock our sleeping bags and tents for people who are sleeping rough. The homeless come on Friday mornings also to collect their bags of food. However, some of them mightn’t have cooking facilities so we would only give them dry foods, things they can eat out of hand. It’s very difficult for them but we do our best and we try to give them what best suits their situation. We try to help everyone we can, as best we can, but you can only do that when you have the supplies to do it,” added Ina matter of factly.
“We need the food coming in in order to keep the food kitchen running and to distribute the food out to those who need it. I would spend a lot of time myself each Thursday making homemade soups, putting them in the freezer and giving them out in cartons on the Friday. People can defrost them and have them later, so they would have those at least along with whatever else we have to give out, depending on how busy we are with demands,” added Ina who is herself a qualified chef and admitted to wanting nothing more than to be actually preparing food in a kitchen to help others.
“Occasionally we are able to buy stuff if we are given financial donations or whatever, and then other times we wouldn’t have a lot of meat to give out, depending on our stocks here. So if there is anyone out there in a position to help us with meat, burgers, sausages, even once a month or so, we would really appreciate that very much,” she said.
“Basically we badly need to get the stock back up to pre-Covid levels and we could do with any assistance from meat suppliers, supermarkets, factories, etc. Everything and anything is always a help, foodstuffs, minerals, cosmetic stuff, toiletries, etc. Believe me, there is a need for it all out there.”
Credit where credit is due, the efforts of Ina and the group, over many years now, have been incredible and no doubt immeasurable in what they achieve, but she was quick to deflect any personal acclaim in any way.
“At the moment I am not working. I like doing this as it keeps me busy and it keeps my head busy. You just feel that you are doing something for somebody else. But I also actually enjoy doing it. It’s not like a job, you are doing this to help someone else. And for me that’s the main thing,” she concluded.
It's all go getting food parcels ready for collection. Here Ina Doyle, Anne Kerton and Johnny O'Callaghan go about their business.
A GRATEFUL MOTHER SAYS ‘THANK YOU’ FOR A HELPING HAND
“I am a mother with three children and last year I had to go on ‘Disability’ and I was finding it impossible to make ends meet. I contacted Clonmel Community Soup Kitchen for help as I saw them on Facebook. They have been absolutely amazing.
“They gave me toys and presents for the children for Christmas, a turkey and ham and amazing food parcels. I still get a food parcel almost weekly which has a range of dried foods and sauces, tea, coffee, sugar and tinned foods and a bag of freezer foods. They have taken the pressure off me and have been so amazing to us.
“I honestly can’t thank them enough for all their help and they always greet you with a smile and a chat.
“They are fantastic people and it’s an amazing service.”
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