“TAKE a sandwich for later” urge the volunteers at the soup run in Limerick city, which runs for five nights a week.
Now, as the winter months approach the volunteers are preparing to expand their service to seven nights, thanks to the donation of €10,000 from businessman Richard Mulcahy, who appeared in The Secret Millionaire on RTE television this week.
“Miss, write this down,” instructs one young man called Clive, who is finding his feet again, with the help of the Novas Initiatives.
“They’re the best group of people you could ever meet and they deserve that €10,000. They deserve every penny.” Clive, who bags a packet of Tesco custard creams as the soup run packs up its stall, is one of the “sweethearts” the volunteers support. “They got me off heroin and I’ve been clean two years, and have a flat now. I can’t thank them enough,” he says of Novas.
Sandwiches are made in the Brother Russell home and the Greenhills hotel provides around 20 meals a night. Not only has the donation overjoyed the volunteers who run the service, but people living hand to mouth are keenly aware of the programme too, even if they haven’t seen it. “They’re not able to do it [the soup run] on Friday and Saturday nights, and you would miss it. You’d starve without it,” adds Clive.
“Everyone is telling me they saw me on the show. I’m a superstar now,” says Gerry, 66, has been coming here since his wife died. Cradling his hands around the Styrofoam cup, he said the service is “A1”. If he didn’t have it, he said he’d try to manage on his own but this makes life that little bit easier.
“I appreciate what I get. There’s something different here every night. There’s stew, there’s beef, a casserole, or chicken curry. I hope it keeps going, because they got a bit of a windfall. Do you hear about that?”
As a ‘new’ homeless man walks up, Clive takes it upon himself to call the one of the hostels and find out if there’s a bed available. There’s none tonight, they say. A Lithuanian man with a black eye also approaches the stall, where sugar is poured into cups of tea with a measuring jug. He began to talk about his experience about arriving in Ireland as the Celtic Tiger went south, and then apologised, saying he was too drunk.
One young woman hurried up to the volunteers, handing over two bags of buns she cooked after watching the RTE programme.
“It was the most inspiring thing I’ve ever seen,” said Michelle Kearsley from Caherdavin, who vowed to donate as much as possible to help. “I was in tears watching it. I never realised what work went on in Limerick city. I couldn’t believe it, so I got the oven on. I said if other people provide the tea and dinner, then maybe I could provide the dessert.”
The volunteers are grateful for any sweet foods, because they’re often the only food drug addicts will eat, and they often walk away empty handed for the night if there’s none at hand. It’s pointed out that it’s not uncommon for people to ask for six spoons of sugar in their tea, even though they still try to convince themselves and others that they’ve beaten their addiction.
Regardless of their circumstances, food is handed out without any prejudice, because they are all in need in some way.
Annette O’Carroll, who has been volunteering on this run for three years, says she loves “the freedom of volunteering”.
“Because I’m a volunteer I’ve the privilege of not having to question,” she explains.
Aside the benefits the donation will bring, she said the level of awareness it has created is even greater.
“The awareness changes everything, it shifts everything.”
“There’s been brilliant stories since I started about people turning their lives around. It’s just amazing to see that happening.”
Others dropped off cases of water after seeing the show and being inspired to help. Normally there’s up to 20 people a night coming forward, explains John Mulcahy, a volunteer from east Limerick, who travels in one night a week. Since he retired he said he wanted to give something back and has been volunteering here for five months.
“What I found an eye-opener was the extent of it [homelessness],” he says. While the hostels cater for some of the homeless, there are others who still “fall between the cracks and they are looked after here to some extent.”
While many were worried with how Limerick would be depicted in the programme, which showed life in some grim estates, it also helped shine a light on the spirit of volunteerism in the city, and the strength of community.
Other groups who have benefitted in various ways were the Lough Gur-based Cliona Ring Foundation, which helps families with seriously ill children, the city-based Our Lady Of Lourdes Community Centre, and the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen Patrick Sarsfield Branch.
The Co Wicklow based businessman decided to give something back to Limerick after studying engineering in the NIHE (now the University of Limerick) in the 1970s.