A FOOD bank set up last year is providing an invaluable service to families and individuals in West Cork struggling to put food on the table.
Feed West Cork, run by volunteers based at Drimoleague Methodist church, was created in May and offers free hampers with essential food items for collection on a weekly basis.
Starting off with seven clients in its first week, it is currently helping dozens of people on a weekly basis.
“We got established initially after a group of us were chatting during the pandemic,” volunteer Esther Kingston told The Echo. “We wanted to test the water in the community and to see what needs were there. We knew that a lot of these services were based in or nearer the city.”
Feed West Cork offers a weekly food bank service for a few hours every Friday afternoon from the Methodist church in Drimoleague. Ms Kingston said they encounter people of all ages and family circumstances.
“We didn’t have a clue how many would come when we started out. We started with seven clients on week one. We have kept going and we are now reaching up to 25 people on a weekly basis. We are seeing single people and families. We are seeing a good variety of people who live alone, are bachelors, and older people.
“We have people from every walk of life. We have people with high mortgages, bills, and expenses. You would never know who might walk through the doors. We are seeing a lot of people who are under pressure.
They might not come every week. They come when they need to. Some come more often while others dip in and out when they need to use the service. It is healthy to see people coming when they need it,” she added.
Feed West Cork provides hampers with essential food items, which include dry goods and a bag of fresh fruit for their clients.
Ms Kingston said they were very grateful to so many organisations for their donations.
“We partner with Food Cloud, who gets the surplus food from shops and businesses. They are a great help. Feed Cork was also a great help in getting us up and running. We also receive donations from local people and a few businesses, which have been a great help. A lot of schools held food collection days over the Christmas period for us.
“We would be lost without community support. We have people who buy an extra bag of groceries and they drop them off to us,” she said.
Feed West Cork is made up of a committee of five members, with many more volunteers keen to help vulnerable people in the community.
“We have people from the Methodist church, from the community, anywhere and everywhere helping us out. We are only learning on the job. None of us have ever done this before. We are glad about the way it is going,” she added. “We would like to possibly open up a drop-in cafe where people can come and have a chat more so than over a basket of food. Our aim is to try and develop what we have.”
Ms Kingston said that providing food for their clients was only one aspect of the service.
“We are there to support the people and help them if they want to talk. It is very evident the need for a listening ear at the moment. We provide friendship and support if it suits people. The process is definitely twofold. We aim to help them physically with food and support them through dialogue. There is a loneliness there at the moment. People are just so happy that people will chat with them and remember details. It is important to be there for people verbally if need be.
“Every week there is nearly always somebody new coming. They come from all over West Cork. We have people coming from Bandon, Ballydehob, Bantry, Dunmanway, and Skibbereen. They turn up and there are no questions asked... Some of us know what it is like to not have very much. If we can be of help and support we are happy. We just want to respect the people for who they are and give them the love and care that they deserve.
“Our aim is to provide food, a sympathetic ear, some comfort, and to be there for people who are struggling at this time. ‘A helping hand at a time of need’ is our slogan. We always aspire to fulfill this pledge,” she added.
Ms Kingston said it was great to see positive change in the clients who avail of the service.
“When people come the first week, they may feel embarrassed but, after a few weeks, we see them lift their heads that bit higher. They are glad someone is there to support and help them.
“One man told us that, when he first came here, he was struggling so much and his mental health was struggling.
“When he first arrived, we could see he wasn’t in the healthiest state, but thanks to the nutritional food he has received it has helped both his body and his mind.
“Feed West Cork has helped get him back on his feet. It is people like that who we really do it for. It is great to see a difference being made.