THE head of a Cork charity feeding those in need has voiced concern about the overwhelming demand for the service from families in dire straits.
Caitríona Twomey from Cork Penny Dinners said that the third lockdown is presenting even more challenges than the first as the number of people seeking help continues to rise and that volunteers are working around the clock to cater for families struggling to survive on pandemic unemployment payments.
In the region of 460,000 received the Pandemic Unemployment Payment this week, an increase of 15 per cent on the previous week likely influenced by the stricter public health measures to combat Covid-19 including putting a halt to construction as well as temporarily closing businesses.
In Cork, 47,447 people received the payment.
Ms Twomey said that many families are now in survival mode.
"During the lockdown, our numbers started to rise and they are still rising," she said. "People are coming to us for the first time. They have been let go from work and are worried about their futures. The same volunteers are working round the clock to make sure nobody has to go without."
She listed the repercussions of the pandemic.
"People are unable to renew their health and life insurance," she said. "Couples with children are having to use their Covid payments to pay the mortgage only to find they are left with nothing at the end of the month. There are far too many people suffering."
Ms Twomey said that life has changed drastically for so many parents.
"There is no longer worry about who knows," she said. "They have to take things in order of priority. Their only concern is the trouble that will ensue if they don't get through this. These are people who previously worked off a budget that has now been halved or lessened. They had enough to take their children on holiday every year. Now, that's all drastically changed. It's the uncertainty that is causing the most pain."
She described how the pandemic has shone a spotlight on mental health issues.
"One of the saddest parts is seeing people who have put their heart and soul on the line who now have to close their businesses. The future is uncertain for them. Do they wait till this blows over and start again. Blood sweat and tears have been wasted. Dreams have been annihilated. That must be so hard. Mental health has come to the fore and there is a huge amount of anxiety out there."
She is now calling on the government to increase the fuel allowance to prevent people from going cold as well as hungry.
"I think at this stage the Government should be increasing the fuel allowance to ensure that nobody has to suffer in the cold spell. It's the emotional and financial side of this pandemic that's destroying people's mental health."
Operating with less volunteers as a result of Covid-19 restrictions has presented the charity with further challenges.
"People are now coming out of necessity. Everything has to get done but with such small numbers now. We owe a lot to our volunteers."
To donate, visit Cork Penny Dinners website.