A soup kitchen organisation that serves more than 3,500 hot meals a week at its four centres countrywide is planning to open a facility in Athlone within months.
Founder Mark O'Neill said they have been asked by several public representatives to locate centres in Mullingar and Athlone as they are “badly needed” and after studying the council figures he has agreed.
“Mullingar will be first, then Athlone. I would hope to have both open within three to six months. Before the end of the year I'd hope to have the four open (also Loughrea and Galway).”
“We'll be looking for a premises with planning in place, possibly as a cafe and a restaurant. That's what we have done so far.”
Irish Soup Kitchen Centres currently operates soup kitchens in Navan, Drogheda, Balbriggan and Dundalk.
“We would reckon in all that we'll be serving 700 to 1,000 hot meals a week (in Athlone). I'd imagine we'll be distributing 200 food hampers a week as well, each of these has food worth €150 to €200.”
People from “all walks of life” come to them for help, Mark said, but they have noticed increases in the so-called 'working poor' requesting assistance or others adversely affected by the housing crisis, who are homeless or have addiction issues. Some families don't like the idea of going to a soup kitchen so the group delivers food parcels to their houses instead, something they are already doing in Kinnegad and will do in Athlone prior to the centre opening if the demand is there.
“I've called to deliver food parcels to nice houses with nice cars outside but unfortunately since 2007 they are still on the rebound from it.”
Once bills are paid there is little left for food in the many of these so-called “working poor” and there is an element of trying to pretend they are doing okay to neighbours or they are bidding to protect children.
“One lady opened all the presses and the fridge and there was very little in there, and she had three kids. There are people out there hiding an awful lot. They are trying to keep up with the times but they are struggling at the back of it,” he said.
While things are improving for some, others are not so lucky as living costs shoot up or they lose their rental home.
“We sit down and have a friendly chat with everyone who comes in and see where their problem lies, and then put them in touch with various organisations,” he told the Westmeath Independent, saying that they want to help people availing of the service to improve their life by treating them with dignity.
However, he stressed there is no criteria for anyone seeking help.
Mark relies on donations of food and money to help keep the four centres going at an estimated cost of €285,000 a year.
“If anyone would like to volunteer in Athlone, give me a buzz. It's volunteers who make the whole situation happen. Anyone who knows of a suitable premises, get in touch too. The centre (Athlone) will be open seven days a week from 9am to 5pm so in most places you would need 30 to 40 volunteers on rotation to get it up and running,” Mr O'Neill ended.
Anyone who is willing to help out to get the Athlone soup kitchen up and running, make a donation, or request a food parcel, can call Mark O'Neill 085 8811112 or email:firstname.lastname@example.org