FIVE students from Terence MacSwiney Community College have helped provide more than 9,000 hot meals and 7,000 sandwiches to Cork Penny Dinners since they initiated The Food Fund in October 2021.
As part of the Deis programme the Cork city secondary school receives 284 hot meals per day.
The five enterprising students Shane Dwyer, Dylan Peelo, Shane O’Reilly, Kalvein Lowther, and Corey McCarthy observed that through natural wastage surplus meals were discarded at the end of the day on a daily basis.
They decided to set up a social enterprise to reduce food waste in local schools, redistribute food to Penny Dinners and raise awareness of food needs in the community.
School principal Phil O’Flynn said the students are very aware of social issues and saw a way of helping worthy causes.
“The lads are great ambassadors for the school and for the community,” she said.
“They are so young, but they have so much social awareness and empathy that there is genuine food poverty in the city.
“They noticed there was a lot of unavoidable food waste especially last year with Covid and schools had several unexpected absences which led to a lot of food being left over. We set out to solve this problem, so they decided to link up with Cork Penny Dinners.”
The fifth-year students have subsequently linked up with other local primary schools.
“There are four schools in total,” Ms O’Flynn said.
“The students also collect the left-over meals from the other three primary schools — St Mary’s on the Hill, Strawberry Hill NS, and Scoil Padre Pio.
“We collect, sort, and count the food in our canteen. This food is then brought to Penny Dinners and can be handed out to people in compostable pots.
“Donating food to Penny Dinners reduces food waste in our school, reduces lunch costs, and helps feed those who access Penny Dinners.
“It is great to see a school like ours responding in that way. It shows you how aware our students are of social issues and social justice.
“Their role in helping other people have given them a great sense of self-worth. It is good to give back,” she added.
Corey said it is nice to help out other people who are less fortunate.
“We all saw the waste that was being thrown into the bin in all the different schools,” Corey said.
“We were already working to decrease the amount being brought in the mornings so there would be less thrown out in the evenings. One of the students just said why don’t we give it to Penny Dinners? That was the start of it. It is nice to help. Other people less fortunate are getting the benefit of it.”
“It has gone way better than what we expected,” Dylan added.
“From day one we didn’t think we would get as far as we have done. All the teachers in the school have been a great help. It is great to help Penny Dinners who do such great work in the city.”
The students have subsequently developed The Food Fund app which allows them to easily keep track of the number of untouched meals. Logistical details such as dates and the number of left-over dinners are entered into the app which is linked to Penny Dinners. Shane Dwyer said the app is very helpful.
“We are working on a prototype for an app which will help us with the logistics of it and help us keep track of the dates, and what meals we have collected. The app is very helpful.”
Kalvein said the app has the potential to go nationwide.
“It makes us feel very good to play our part, help the community and make sure people have enough to eat. We have schools from other counties contacting us about the app and our initiative. It has the potential to go nationwide. Hopefully we will leave a legacy and other students in our school and other schools can build on it.”
Shane described their project as a ‘win-win’ for everyone and said: “It is lovely to help people who need it.”
“We are super proud of them,” said Eva Corbett, a teacher in the northside school.
“The guys go down in hail, rain, or snow to collect the food waste from the primary schools. The current TY students have taken over the running of the project because of the systems they have set up. The food fund will continue in our school and community.
“There is a big job of work. It is every single day. It is a massive team effort. Everyone has rowed in behind them.”
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