St. Patrick’s Soup Kitchen was opened about nineteen years ago by Fr. Gerry Tremer, the then Administrator of St. Patrick’s Parish. A homeless man had been found dead on the street in Dundalk and this shocked the whole community. The Soup Kitchen was opened as a means of Outreach to the poor and homeless. Initially the Kitchen opened only once a week but with the growth of poverty and homelessness in our country St. Patrick’s Parish has developed this outreach programme in response to that growing need.
The Kitchen now opens daily and the number of people involved has also grown enormously. Our intention is to welcome anyone who comes to our door needing food or perhaps just company. We also operate a voucher system with one of the charity shops in Dundalk for clothes. We give service users the voucher and they can go to the shop to receive clothes or bedding.
We operate in a very small premises belonging to the parish, because of the size we can only reheat meals and serve toasted sandwiches our kitchen facilities are very limited. We only cater for person over 18 years of age. However because of this the committee felt there were other people in the community who needed help as well and for one reason or another would not or could not call to the soup kitchen. So this year we extended our services to ‘food parcels’. Every Friday morning from 10.30am to 11.30am we hand out between 80 and 100 food parcels. Most of the food we get is subsidised but we purchase some items as well. The only question people are asked when they come is ‘have you any allergies’.
We do not ask why people come or intrude on their privacy as we are aware how sensitive people are to being labelled or looked down upon because they find it hard to financially survive. Recently, we had a lady who sent us a ‘Thank You’ on our facebook saying she felt very welcome and it was a long time since anyone was kind to her. Another man who recently completed the Camino called in and donated €1700, he didn’t know who to donate his money to, so he called in to the kitchen one night as if he was a service user and was very impressed so that made his mind up to give us the money. Some people ask how we know the right people are getting the parcels. Our response is that we can only put our trust in the people, we ask that only one parcel per family is collected each week and we ourselves feel the majority of people who receive these parcels need them.
We have also involved some of the local schools and have called out to them and talked to their students about the soup kitchen/food parcels. Some of the schools are doing fundraising for us and food collections. Our intention this Christmas is to provide food hampers for those people who are in need. Last Friday 2nd Dec we took names of families who needed help with food hampers at Christmas we had requests from 105 families. This week we also had to turn people away on Friday as we ran out of food we had 120+ people turned up for help.
Local businesses have also been useful in allowing us use their business premises as food drop off points. Some companies in town have done fundraising for us as well. Recently we got through to the finals of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce Community Awards which gave our volunteers a boost. One hundred percent of all monies donated go towards the soup kitchen/food parcels and we are very grateful to all who donate of their times and energy in this Parish Outreach Project. We hope to meet early in 2017 with other agencies in our area to decide together what is the best way forward with our projects and share our resources.