The economy may be finally growing again and jobless numbers falling, but many people have yet to feel the warm glow of the recovery.
Poverty is still widespread, with families struggling to even put food on the table as they wait for the economic upturn to gather momentum.
Acutely aware of the daily struggles that many experience, two women in Clonmel decided to so something about it. Every Friday night since last February Amanda Quigley and Ina Doyle have operated Clonmel Soup and Sandwiches from the Blue Beret cafe at Clonmel’s bus and rail station, where free food is distributed from 5.30-7pm to those in need.
This service began when Amanda and Ina became aware of people in difficult circumstances whom they donated groceries to and brought out to lunch. Eventually they started to distribute food from a car parked on the Quay, before the charity was put on a more permanent and structured footing at the Blue Beret cafe.
“We cater for the young and old, people who are struggling with addiction, people waiting for a bus, mothers with children”, says Amanda Quigley. “It’s not just for these people or the homeless. We also cater for people on the dole and on low income, the squeezed middle class. We have our regulars and cater for between 10-15 people each Friday. Others turn up and don’t return for a few weeks but that’s okay, we’re very inclusive here”, she says.
There’s an amount of goodwill for the service. The cafe is made available free of charge by the local branch, Post 24, of the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA). Bread is donated by SuperValu while Clonmel Soup and Sandwiches is one of the charities that benefits from Tesco’s Food Cloud, a social innovation established to reduce food waste and help the less well-off. Food, including vegetables for making soup and cold meat, that’s not sold in the store by the close of business is donated. The local store in Clerihan has also helped out.
“We’d love to expand and open a fully-functioning soup kitchen”, says Amanda. “We’d also like to cater for schoolchildren where they could have a proper breakfast instead of wedges and sausage rolls”.
On Thursday night IUNVA members distribute food to designated families in the community, people who are in need “but are not saying anything”. Food that’s left over from Friday night is donated to a residents group who pass it on to needy people on the estate. There’s also a takeaway service for people who cannot or do not want to go to the cafe.
“We just want people to know that this service is available”, says Amanda Quigley.