Covid has shone a light on food poverty
Volunteers with a local food disperal programme say they have witnessed starving children run to meet them and grab bread rolls out of their wrapping.
The Cavan Food Hub has been running throughout the pandemic right across County Cavan and organisers say it has met a real need on the ground.
“What we found throughout the pandemic is that the food poverty existed pre-Covid and, what Covid has done, is shine a light on it across County Cavan and the country," said Terry Hyland, CEO of Cavan County Local Development, which co-ordinates the food hub initiative.
“A lot of children went hungry when off from school during the pandemic. There was no way the schools could feed the children and the food programme was an initiative to address that situation,” he said.
“Schools are a life saver to children in many ways. Apart from being educators, they are also there to provide food for the children who attend the school,” he added.
Through his work, Mr Hyland finds that addiction is a huge issue in some families - whether it is alcohol, drugs or gambling. It results in bad financial management in a household and food for children sometimes comes second after addiction.
The Anglo-Celt has learned that, in some instances in the county, either one or both parents squanders the Child Benefit money on alcohol and the children will be lucky to get crisps and a soft drink.
“Low income is one aspect of food poverty and can also include high levels of debt within the household, issues with addiction, mental health and disability is also a factor. They can be broad and multicomplex issues,” revealed Mr Hyland.
No shame in asking for help
“This is both a rural and urban issue throughout County Cavan. We have a lot of people living in rural isolation across the county. There is no shame in asking for help and our food dispersal initiative is run in a very discreet manner. We don’t name people – we are just there to provide support,” stressed Mr Hyland.
Those operating the food bank initiative include Sandy Holland, Hazel Leahy, Lorraine McTeigue, Padraig McBreen, Iris O’Callaghan, Tara Bannon, Michael Barrett and Ann Marie O’Rourke.
Cavan County Local Development has been the lead organisation for the countywide food bank initiative. Sandy Holland from SICAP has been the manager of the West Cavan Food Hub. Food hubs are also operating in Kilnaleck, Bailieborough and Cavan Town.
They operate with multi-agency support.
“It has involved Cavan County Council, the Gardaí, Cavan Civil Defence, family resource centres and a number of community-based organisations and the GAA,” explained Mr Hyland.
He further pointed out that St Vincent De Paul is a partner of Cavan County Local Development and their volunteers help to identify people in need of food. “The Civil Defence and gardaí also help us with the delivery of food parcels across the county,” outlined the executive.
He believes a government multi-agency response is required to effectively tackle food poverty.
“At Government level, a Food Poverty Taskforce has been established to examine food poverty across the country. It is more prevalent than we actually thought and it is hoped now that there will be a more strategic approach in terms of addressing this issue,” said Mr Hyland.
“In the meantime, together with my colleagues in Cavan County Local Development, we will continue to respond to the needs on the local level, where we can. If families or households identify as needing food, we will be there to provide that to them,” he assured.
Mr Hyland thanked many local suppliers and sponsors for donating supplies to the effort including SuperValu in Ballyconnell, Pat the Baker, McCarren Meats, Liffey Meats and Michael Sexton from Champion Milk.
"They have been very generous with donations, as have their customers as well. They have changed a lot of people’s lives for the better,” said Mr Hyland.
“We are also a member of Food Cloud in Dublin, which is an organisation that takes surplus foods from food producers and supermarkets like Tesco, Aldi and Lidl. They then re-distribute that to charities across Ireland. We get a delivery every week from Food Cloud,” he explained.
Sandy Holland, SICAP Development Officer, said that the food programme had made a real difference to “so many families”. SuperValu customers in Ballyconnell have been filling trolleys with food for the past nine months and it has made a difference in the lives of “so many families in West Cavan”.
“Food was delivered to 39 households in West Cavan over the last nine months and areas run from Belturbet, Ballyconnell, Bawnboy, Corlough, Swanlinbar, Glangevlin, Blacklion and Dowra,” outlined Mr Holland.
The recipients range from single people living on their own to families with small children.
“These people were very appreciative and it is a shame that the programme is coming to an end in west Cavan for now. It was a great contribution to help people get through the pandemic,” he said.
Sinead Maguire, manager of the SuperValu store in Ballyconnell said they were proud to support the initiative: “In these tough times we are living in, there has been a fantastic response from the local community and customers.
“SuperValu is also delighted to have the opportunity to support local initiatives and the customers have been donating food after they have completed their shopping.”