CORK Penny Dinners serves 2,000 freshly made meals a week at their hub on Little Hanover Street and Caitriona is involved in all aspects of the caregiving and volunteering that goes on there.
Speaking to The Echo, Caitriona said her mother and father instilled values of empathy and charity in her as a child.
“My father was in the army, he was the cook sergeant at the barracks and every Christmas he would cook dinner for the poor and elderly.”
Caitriona said she first went to help her father make Christmas dinner around the age of 12.
“I was giving out to him (her father) because we weren’t allowed eat our selection boxes until after dinner on Christmas and our dinner wasn’t until around 5pm because he was away cooking for the poor and elderly, so the following year he brought me with him.”
After that, Caitriona was involved in prepping and serving the dinner at Christmas.
These days, Caitriona is involved in cooking and serving food to anyone who needs a hearty hot meal.
“I like that the people I volunteer with are a good team. We prepare well and make good plans. It is just one of those things, it’s a family of friends that are now family.”
Caitriona said there is a mutual respect among the volunteers.
“We kind of know each other’s thoughts at this point, but we keep it structured and focused.”
In terms of what motivates her to help out, she said it is something her grandmother said to her many years ago.
“My grandmother told me to always be nice and be kind. My family was very helpful and that was instilled in me. I grew up with it and the fact that my family did so much, made it easy for me to also help.”
Caitriona said sometimes it is not about giving, but it’s about the way that you give.
“If you are in a position to help, you are in a very privileged position and the majority of people are so helpful, we know we are making a difference.”
Caitriona described a day at Cork Penny Dinners.
“We serve hot food from 9am. That is a very busy time for us. You have people coming in hungry from the night. We offer a four-course meal, soup, main, dessert and tea or coffee. We also send people away with what we call a survival bag, which is food for the day, sandwiches, fruit, crisps, whatever we have.”
Cork Penny Dinners also provides clothes for people who need them and hampers for families to take away or have delivered.
In terms of what she has learned from her many years of volunteering and helping others, Caitriona said she has realised it’s important not to judge and to always err on the side of caution as well as search for the real problem.
“No two requests are the same. There are different circumstances and different scenarios. You have to take time to get the right help for someone. You have to look beyond.”
Caitriona, who is from the North Cathedral Parish, said she also realised that everyone was interlinked and needed each other.
“We all mean something to each other, some people volunteer for company.”
The pandemic has dramatically changed things for the charitable organisation.
“Mental health problems have gone off the scale now. Since the pandemic, we are seeing people in cruel conditions. Poverty has hit a new low or high whatever you want to call it.
“It’s very hard for a lot of people who have never been in poverty before.”
Caitriona said they were seeing a lot of issues with suicide, addiction and loneliness.
“The first lockdown crippled people, a lot of people were very scared. There were a lot of lessons to learn from it, but you have to wonder if the powers that be, the Government, have they learned from it?”
Caitriona said the most important thing she learned from the pandemic was to adapt, be flexible and never leave anyone behind.
“Everyone should have compassion and empathy for others, we are dealing with human beings, it’s very important to have respect.”
Caitriona said in the so-called land of saints and scholars, the nation was run by few scholars and no saints.
“I’m urging politicians to put everything aside and help people.”