Some of the almost 1.9M children benefitting from the programme.

Help Mary’s Meals end poverty step by step

By Gemma Good

Imagine waking up today and going to work or school with no food to eat, simply because there was none.

Endeavouring to prevent this reality for many children in poverty stricken countries, while ensuring they get an education, is what drives the volunteers with Mary’s Meals. They have been fundraising in Ireland for the past 16 years.

The charity attempts to provide a “simple solution to world hunger”, working in the world’s poorest countries aiding them to break free of the poverty cycle.

“We believe that every child should have enough food to eat and be able to go to school,” said Ballyconnell woman Patricia Friel, who is executive director of Mary’s Meals Ireland. She was speaking to the Celt ahead of a major ‘Step by Step’ fundraiser for the charity this weekend.

A Donegal native but “happily married in Cavan”, Patricia explained it costs only €18.30 to feed a child for the entire school year. The charity is a “no frills” organisation, which means the majority of their workers are volunteers. They guarantee that €0.93 of every euro they receive goes directly to help the children.

Each school day, the charity feeds 1,838,859 children in their place of education. They do this by setting up the facilities required to make the meals, in conjunction with the local authorities. They construct a kitchen and source volunteers to provide meals.

Patricia gave an example of the charity starting up their work in Zambia.

“We work with that local community, because we need that community to help us to build the actual kitchen.”

She explained that the community then owns the project and operates it.

“It’s not Mary’s Meals owning that feeding programme.”

She said the initiative runs solely on the volunteers. From collecting firewood and starting up the fires, cooking, serving and washing up, everybody gets involved to ensure students “get the best run of their day”.”

“Ultimately it’s the parents and guardians in that community that actually make that programme work.”

Mary’s Meals source the best price for the food, which is usually the predominant staple in the area.

Meals are usually served at mid-morning time. They vary in different countries, as Patricia explained they must be mindful of cultural preferences. In Thailand, rice is usually served; while in African countries children receive a fortified porridge, which is a corn soya-based meal.

“Every meal that we serve is fortified with vitamins and minerals,” said Patricia.

“It might just look like a bowl of porridge but actually it is a complete meal that the student has eaten.”

The charity keeps their running costs very low, ensuring as much funding as possible goes to those in need.

“We basically run on a shoestring,” she said.

The Ballyconnell resident explained the benefits of providing meals to children.

“It’s a wonderful thing when Mary’s Meals come to feed, it means that those families start to have hope.”

The initiative encourages children to go to school and get an education.

“If you’ve got a nation that is educated, that can read and write, those little children have a chance of getting a better paid job.”

In this way, Patricia feels that “people won’t be able to take advantage of them” when they are in employment.

The volunteers are always warmly welcomed into a community.

Providing meals to children in 19 countries, Mary’s Meals need help from the public to continue with their vital work.


They are holding their annual Step by Step walk this Saturday (August 7).

Traditionally, walkers set off from six starting points across the country.

Over nine days – between August 7 and 15 – they cover more than 200km, finishing up at the Marian shrine at Knock in County Mayo.

“It’s our largest fundraiser on the island of Ireland,” emphasised Patricia.

Patricia said the “Cavan leg of the walk” will start in Armagh and will finish in Knock in Mayo.

“It’s much reduced with COVID-19 just to keep people safe. We’ve got a small number of people walking those routes just to keep it going.”

The walk will arrive in Cootehill on Sunday evening, where they will rest up for the night. They will leave the White Horse at 8.30am on Monday morning and head for Cavan Town. They will meet at Corlurgan Business Park on Tuesday morning and take off for Granard.

Patricia urged people to join her on the walk for a good cause, explaining they can “just do a bit of it”.

Alternatively people can organise their own walk locally.

The organisation is asking people to “take a sponsorship card” and donate online as there will be no bucket collections this year.

Further information on how you can participate can be found on

“Mary’s meals is a series of little acts of love,” Patricia enthused.

She explained that everybody can do a “small bit” to make “a massive difference” in the lives of young children.

“It’s literally just getting out and doing something small,” she encouraged.

“We would love people to get involved and donate,” concluded Patricia.