Penny Dinners: Cork college students quitting studies due to hunger

Penny Dinners: Cork college students quitting studies due to hunger

Caitriona Twomey pictured on Gravel Lane across from Penny Dinners, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

COLLEGE students have been turning to a Cork soup kitchen as a last resort before quitting their studies due to extreme hunger.

Caitríona Twomey from Cork Penny Dinners on Little Hanover Street said that they have always welcomed university students. However, this new college term has seen growing numbers as a result of serious financial hardship among young people.

Ms Twomey said that many had decided to leave courses before hearing of the charity. She added that the cost of accommodation is contributing significantly to the problem.

The most sought-after edible items for students include staples such as rice and pasta. Some students had been living on little else other than dry cereal to make ends meet, Ms Twomey said.

“The one thing we are hearing from students is that their families are strapped and they don’t want to go home and tap into any more. They know that what their family is giving them is all they have. It could be five or six issues for one and one issue for another.

“The students we are coming across aren’t worried if their peers know they are coming to us, which is very positive,” she said

“Students nowadays are doing whatever they can to survive and realise that it’s OK to ask for help. They really don’t seem to mind anymore because they are so determined to pursue education.”

Ms Twomey is grateful to see awareness of Cork Penny Dinners being raised around campuses.

“While it is awful that this is happening, it is wonderful that word of mouth is so effective. It means that the students going through this are now getting the help they need. A person can’t study with an empty belly. This is the most practical step that they can take.”

Ms Twomey said some students now see Cork Penny Dinners as another part of their daily routine.

“They have a system and are adapting quickly,” she said. 

“The bags we give out to students are referred to as survival bags. They contain items like rice, pasta, soups, fruit, chocolate, crisps and water. It’s quick and easy, and they are truly delighted. For one reason or another, we are needed at the moment.

“We’re hearing from students who don’t even have accommodation, who are having to couch surf just to be able to stay in college.”

She said one mother had been travelling to meet her child, who is studying in another part of the country, with food from Cork Penny Dinners.

Meanwhile, University College Cork Students’ Union welfare officer Caoimhe Walsh said that some students were having to avail of the students’ union emergency fund to afford basic essentials.

“I’ve had people coming to me who are literally down to a couple of cents,” she said.

“Many will initially feel relieved that their rent is paid, only to realise that there isn’t enough left over to eat. The accommodation costs have soared, so students don’t have enough to live on after rent. The emergency fund can only cover so much. Even the full grant won’t cover accommodation for that month. There are students coming to us who are working weekends, but still can’t cover rent.”

She acknowledged the emotional strain poverty is having on university students.

“I’m a stranger to the people coming to me, so I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for them to tell me they are struggling. Some students are very upset. However, what concerns me most is that there are probably students still afraid to ask for help. I can only assume that this is the case,” Ms Walsh said.

She urged any student experiencing poverty to reach out.

“We should be getting our food bank in place soon. This was introduced around three years ago, but we were restricted by Covid.

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