Families turning to Penny Dinners in absence of school lunches during summer break

With primary school students yet to disperse for July and August, head of Cork Penny Dinners, Caitríona Twomey said she fears the problem may grow in the weeks ahead.
Families turning to Penny Dinners in absence of school lunches during summer break

Caitríona Twomey is calling on the Government to provide a subsidy for families of children relying on school dinners during the summer months. Picture Denis Minihane.

PARENTS of children who relied on Government-funded school lunches are being forced to turn to a soup kitchen charity as families struggle to survive through the summer holidays.

With primary school students yet to disperse for July and August, head of Cork Penny Dinners, Caitríona Twomey said she fears the problem may grow in the weeks ahead.

The School Meals Programme provides funding towards the provision of food services for schools with Deis status while the non-statutory School Meals Local Projects Scheme provides funding directly from the Department of Social Protection to primary schools, secondary schools, local groups and voluntary organisations operating their own school meals projects. Some 55,650 students have been benefitting from the initiative.

However, ripple effects from the cost of living crisis have left many parents now wondering how they are going to feed their children this summer.

Caitríona Twomey recalled how teachers have gone beyond the call of duty during previous school holidays by collecting food hampers from Cork Penny Dinners to deliver to the families of their students.

Need for subsidy for families 

Caitríona Twomey is calling on the Government to provide a subsidy for families of children relying on school dinners during the summer months.

“Teachers and principals are being left to worry about these students during the summer,” she said. “It is something that needs to be addressed.”

She reiterated how some parents will go with less to eat for themselves to provide for their children.

“They won’t ask for themselves. It’s always just for the children. They are stretched. We’ll always have to offer the parents food before they take any for themselves. We are trying to remind them that they have to look after themselves too.”

Ms Twomey said there are still many misconceptions around food poverty.

“Many associate food poverty with parents who aren’t in employment but a huge number of parents that come to us suffering in this way are working.

“The majority of parents aren’t telling their children where the food is coming from. The kids shouldn’t have to know. However, you can still see the worry on a parent’s face when they are coming to collect food.”

Caitríona said that some of the children aware of their family’s struggles have expressed their gratitude to volunteers.

“I’ve had children come to Penny Dinners for their work experience during transition year who tell me that I looked after their mum or dad when they couldn’t put food on the table.”

SVP sees rise in demand

Cork Penny Dinners is not the only charity facing mounting pressure this summer.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul has voiced grave concern for families already on the brink as the latest Consumer Price Index data from the Central Statistics Office shows prices have risen by 7.8% in the year to May 2022- the largest increase in almost 38 years.

SVP has received some 78,000 calls for help to date this year — approximately a 20% increase on last year.

It warned that the current cost of living crisis is forcing more families into poverty.

“From our volunteers’ work in communities, we know countless examples of people across the country unable to heat their homes and feed and care for their families,” a representative from the charity said.

“The cost of living measures provided so far have helped and given people temporary relief. But people on low and fixed incomes were often already at the brink; battling a rising tide of high rents, growing bills, often juggling health conditions and caring responsibilities.”

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