The economic crisis engulfing Ireland has brought back an institution closely associated with the 1930s Depression -- the charity soup kitchen.According to a report in BBC, the Twist Soup kitchen in the city of Galway on Ireland's western coast serves free meals to the unemployed and those down on their luck.A customer named Keith Daly explained why he was there."I just find it hard at the moment. I had painting and decorating work three years ago on building sites, but it's all gone now,” he lamented. "I have nothing, and basically this place has been a lifeline for me. I come here to get help with food.""Never, ever did I think I'd need to come to such a place," another customer named Kieran Coneely, 42, told the BBC. "But now, I've lost jobs, lost my family, lost houses, I've lost everything, and I have nothing else to do. This is the only place I meet people that are in the same boat as me, that are stuck."
The Twist Soup, which is operated by Oliver Williams, a former helicopter pilot, does ask for donations from those who can afford it and also draws cash from other sponsors and supporters. Williams was himself homeless while living in London in the 1980s.
"I was only 15, and I ended up going into a place called Centrepoint in Soho [London],” he said.
"They took me in and gave me a meal and a bed and some good advice and put me on the right track, when I could have ended up on the wrong track. I was fortunate, and I always said I would do the same some day in my own country [Ireland], as a way of giving something back."
Williams added that he was surprised by the kinds of people he sees coming into his kitchen, although the Irish government recently revealed that 10 percent of the population is living in a state of “food poverty.”
"[We have] ordinary family people that have fallen on hard times and can't afford to make ends meet," he commented.
"I'd love to see this place closing down, but that's not going to happen. In Galway, we are feeding on average 85 people a day, but the numbers are rising slowly.”
The Republic of Ireland currently has a jobless rate of about 15 percent, among the highest in the European Union, although the real figure may be much higher. Following the collapse of the housing market and huge bailouts to banks, Ireland is in dire straits.
“Ten percent of the [Irish] population are in poverty," a recent letter to the editor of the Irish Independent newspaper sadly declared. "1.82 million people have less than €25 left at the end of each week after paying their bills, and ... 186,000 households are unable to pay their mortgages.
“The Irish economy is dead and in deep recession, and the austerity program, driven largely by Germany, was a failure leading us inevitably to permanent depression.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.