Fr Shay Casey.

Some 200 local students need regular help with food parcels

The Chaplain of the Athlone campus of the Technological University of the Shannon has said that there are around 200 students who regularly need help with food parcels and deliveries.

Fr Shay Casey said that while the problem is not massive, there are enough students in need to keep the chaplaincy team busy with a food deliveries.

It comes after a food bank for students in University College Cork ran out of food in 50 minutes last week.

"We have been running a food bank in conjunction with Food Cloud and Tesco for years," Fr Casey explained. "We go in to Tesco every evening at 9pm and take food that Tesco need to have gone by midnight. We're delighted to take it and they're delighted to get rid of it."

Food Cloud is a non-profit social enterprise which specialises in ensuring that no good food goes to waste.

"We then have a chaplaincy team that organises the distribution of the food," he continued.

"We deliver to students in the accommodation complexes and also students in private houses. Some of them might not want to have it be obvious that they need help, so we use ordinary bags in those cases. We've been told that only for the service people would be going hungry.

"We often have a surplus after we deliver and we leave it in to the Students' Union, and there is a huge demand for it."

Fr Casey also believes that there are always red herrings used to distract from problems that affect students, and that the issue is connected to a lack of student accommodation in the area.

"It's not as easy as just getting a part-time, job or organising your money better or spending less money on going out, as some people suggest. All you have to do is look at the two things that have happened this past year; rent prices have gone up and availability has gone down.

"We have 100 names on a list of students that are still living in B&Bs since the start of the year. I have gone door to door to houses of people I know that might take students in for digs, but generally people are nervous about taking in people because of Covid.

"Some landlords know about the demand and are charging €600 a month for a room, which has never been the case in Athlone. Costs like that can lead students scarce for money for food or other essential items."

He believes that issues like this can affect students' mental health and can lead to them dropping out of third level education, "which no student sets out to do".

"Some students have to make sacrifices when they go to college, and it is our job to find those people as quickly as we can to get them the help they need," he finished.