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300% increase in people needing 5c dinners

Cork Penny Dinners has served up hot meals for a small donation since 1750 – and now it’s seeing business people, parents and families availing of its services.

AN ORGANISATION OFFERING dinners for 5 cent in Cork has seen a three-fold increase in people seeking its hot meals.

Cork Penny Dinners was founded by the city’s Quakers in the 1850s, offering hot dinners for 1 penny during the time of the Famine.

Its aim is to offer food as well as a warm, dry place to sit down in a welcoming atmosphere.

To eat at CPD costs a donation of just 5 cent or 10 cent. It costs €2,500 a week to serve up food at the building each week.

Florence Harrison, who is on the volunteering committee for CPD, told TheJournal.ie that there are now three times as many people coming to the building for food as there were two years ago.

When Florence joined the committee, she said she was appalled at the condition of the building, and surprised at the fact CPD closed two days a week and for two weeks at Christmas.

So to cope with the demand and ensure people are not left hungry on the weekends, CPD has increased its opening hours to seven days a week – and is open on Christmas day.

Who comes to Cork Penny Dinners?

Around 2,500 people are fed there every month, which includes 120 people on Saturdays and 130 people on Sundays.

Florence has seen an “enormous difference” in the profile of people availing of the meals.

We still have the guy living alone or on the margins who drinks too much.
But we are more and more getting middle class well-dressed people who have run their own business. Their business has gone to the wall, possibly because they didn’t get paid, but we don’t ask them why.

Many of these people aren’t eligible for Social Welfare or are waiting weeks for payments and have no other income.

They are hungry. I see hunger every day and what amazes me – because I wouldn’t have come across it before – it’s not the people who grab their plates and eat, it’s the people who look at the plate and can’t eat, because their stomachs have shrunk.

Florence spoke of a recent case where a well-dressed woman came to the door and told them she was receiving a disability allowance.

“I’m really hungry,” she told the staff. “I’ve paid all my bills but I don’t get my money until Tuesday and this is Friday”.

“We took her in and gave her what we could. We made up a hamper for her,” said Florence, who said the woman had “courage to knock at that door with total desperation” and started crying when she was given food.

It’s the middle classes that have pride and shame, that strikes me so much, because it’s really hard for them. No one wants to end up eating in CPD as a career move. People say, ‘you have so many people taking advantage’, but I say a) we don’t know and b) I believe we don’t.

The deep shame; that’s what comes across to me.

Another big change is the amount of families now in need of the penny dinners:

Up until six months ago we would have been 98 per cent male but we’re now getting families. We have Polish families and we even have a Polish table. They are lovely to deal with, they are so polite. That’s what always amazes me: the politeness of the people we look after. They come up and say ‘that is a wonderful meal’.

The volunteers

The volunteers make sure it is high-quality food that is served up, and the three-course meal usually includes soup, a main course with meat, potatoes and vegetables, and dessert.

People are also given a banana and a sandwich, while wrapped pieces of day-old bread from local bakeries are available for free.

The food comes from Cork butchers, shops and markets.

“It is so rewarding,” says Florence of working with CPD. “You know you make a difference and that is so satisfying.”

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Fundraising for the future

However, there is one aspect of the organisation that she would love to change: the 100-year-old building, which has no central heating and an outside toilet.

In winter you come in with three loads of thermals and your gloves on.

There are plans to demolish the building and rebuild on the site, or alternatively to refurbish the exisiting building – but €300,000 needs to be raised to do this.

So far, thanks to consistent fundraising, €120,000 has been raised. Donations can be made online by clicking here.

A new fundraising initiative by CPD is sponsored Sundays – businesses are invited to sponsor the food on a  Sunday for €500 and staff can come and help on the day. This is going extremely well, said Florence.

CPD has a special place in the hearts of Cork people, says Florence.

Everyone on the north side knows Cork Penny Dinners. There is amazing fondness for it becaue it has been around for years. A lot of people in Cork,  their parents might have had hard times and had to come to us. There is great affection for it.

But for all the talk of food, Cork Penny Dinners dishes out much more to those who visit every day: friendly faces, security and a place to connect with others.

It’s 50 per cent food – 50 per cent somewhere where they feel welcome and appreciated.
We have so many men, they’re quite lonely. They don’t step out of line they, don’t give us any hassle.

Cork Penny Dinners will be featured on the Secret Millionaire on Monday 3 October.

Visit the Cork Penny Dinners website to find out how to donate>

300% increase in people needing 5c dinners
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  • Cork Penny Dinners

    Source: Cork Penny Dinners
  • Inside Cork Penny Dinners

    Source: Cork Penny Dinners
  • The tables Cork Penny Dinners

    Source: Cork Penny Dinners
  • The toilet at Cork Penny Dinners

    Source: Cork Penny Dinners

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