This is saving people’s lives': Cork Penny Dinners volunteer thanks people for Ukraine support 

“This is much-needed supplies going straight to Ukraine, there are family boxes containing food like pastas, rice, the necessary foods that we take for granted every day." 
This is saving people’s lives': Cork Penny Dinners volunteer thanks people for Ukraine support 

A view of a building which had been destroyed in a Russian attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, July 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

A Cork Penny Dinners volunteer has thanked the Cork public for the support they have given the group which allows them to help the people of Ukraine.

Conal Thomas is one of six people joining Penny Dinners’ latest humanitarian mission to Poland’s Ukrainian border, and he appealed to Irish people to continue its generous support.

Penny Dinners is Cork’s oldest charity, dating back to Famine times, and since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, co-ordinator Catriona Twomey and her fellow volunteers have made three visits to the region with humanitarian aid donated by the people of Cork.

Lesley O’Sullivan (left) and Cónal Thomas (right) at the Dolhobyczów border crossing with Ukrainian volunteers Sergeiy and Viktor.
Lesley O’Sullivan (left) and Cónal Thomas (right) at the Dolhobyczów border crossing with Ukrainian volunteers Sergeiy and Viktor.

“The first time was 25 tonnes [of aid], the second time was 50 tonne, this time it’s 80 tonne, so it’s increasing, thank you,” Mr Thomas said.

Setting out at 3.30am last Friday morning from Penny Dinners’ base in Tarnów, in south-eastern Poland, Conal and his fellow volunteer, northsider Lesley O’Sullivan, travelled to the eastern Polish border town of Dołhobyczów.

They drove for over three hours, covering 170 miles, their van loaded down with five tonnes of humanitarian aid made up of non-perishable foods, toiletries, medical aid, and baby food.

“This is much-needed supplies that are going straight to Ukraine, there are family boxes containing food like pastas, rice, the necessary foods that we take for granted every day.

"This is saving people’s lives, and we’re delighted to be part of it,” Mr Thomas said.

Travelling with the volunteers was Pastor Jan Skarbek, a Polish friend of Penny Dinners, who, alongside his wife Barbara, several times a week delivers medical supplies and food to Dołhobyczów.

From there, members of the Skarbeks’ church bring those supplies across to the Ukrainian town of Nowowołyńsk, where severe food shortages have been reported.

Taking a quick break from unloading their van in 38 degree heat on Friday, Conal Thomas spoke about the work of Penny Dinners.

Aid to where it is needed 

Mr Thomas said a key difference with the Penny Dinners missions was that, unlike some other charities, the relatively small scale of the Cork operation meant that one person – co-ordinator Caitriona Twomey – could, alongside her colleagues, supervise the loading of the aid in Ireland and then be at the delivery point to ensure it was getting to those for whom it was intended.

Mr Thomas said the work Penny Dinners volunteers are doing along the Ukrainian border depended entirely upon donations from the public, and could not continue without that generous support.

The Donegal town native has made Cork his home for more than 40 years, and in 2007 he founded Conal’s Tree Services, a tree surgery company which has doubled its work force every year since it began.

Mr Thomas, who was accompanied to Dołhobyczów by Lesley O’Sullivan, a Glanmire resident working in Ryan’s SuperValu, said he and his fellow volunteers had felt moved to travel to the border region to help people.

“I’m talking from the heart, I’m an ordinary person that’s working at home, but I needed to come out here. 

"Lesley is the same, he has a full-time job, but he came over,” Mr Thomas said.

The Penny Dinners volunteers also filmed the miles-long queue at the border crossing, where every day Ukrainian people wait for hours to return home having purchased as many essentials as they can in Poland.

Struggling to meet demand, shops along the border have imposed rationing.

On Saturday, the Penny Dinners volunteers headed back to the border with four vans loaded with aid.

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