A couple from Cork have told The Echo they pass off soup kitchen dinners as homecooked meals to try and protect their children from the stigma of poverty.
John and Martha (not their real names) make the daily trip to Cork Penny Dinners while their children are in school. They have been doing so since the summertime when John lost his factory job. His wife Martha previously had to leave her job due to severe epilepsy.
The couple has their lunch in Cork Penny Dinners each day following the school run. Martha admits that keeping their situation a secret has become an ongoing struggle.
“I have to pretend I’ve cooked the meals at home myself,” she said. “I don’t want them to know there is anything wrong.
“The important thing is that we still have our home. We are trying to count our blessings as much as possible.”
The mother-of-three said they previously donated to the services who now help them. “We used to donate to the poor and now we are using these services ourselves,” she said. “It’s a gut-wrenching feeling. Christmas is coming up which makes everything even harder.
“Our oldest is 16 so there’s no such thing as a dolly anymore. We are hoping that my parents will be able to fill in the gap. I haven’t been able to ask them for help yet. I come from a working family so it would be very difficult to tell them about our situation. I suppose it’s a pride thing really. Growing up I never had to go without.”
Martha insists she just wants her kids to experience what other children have.
“Sometimes they’ll ask for sweets or drinks just like any other child would,” she said.
“Caitríona — who runs Cork Penny Dinners — has been really good to us.
“If we’re in town with the kids we’ll have to sneak out to get whatever we need.”
Martha and John said the experience has only made their relationship stronger.
“It’s made us stronger together. If we were apart we wouldn’t have come through this.”
Martha said there is isn’t a day that goes by when she doesn’t experience a gut-wrenching feeling associated with poverty.
“It’s soul-destroying,” she said. “The anxiety is horrible.
“Every morning you wake up with this sick feeling in your stomach.”
Martha added that she is glad to have a roof over his family’s head: “We get social welfare but it all goes towards paying rent so at the end of the week we’re left with nothing.”