By Imasha Costa, Editor-In-Chief
On Wednesday, 6th of October, UCC Student’s Union had to turn away students from their food bank as they ran out of food to give. Speaking to Asha Woodhouse, SU President, she recollects her experience from that day.
‘I remember when we started, there was loads of food there. I was in meetings therefore I couldn’t come when we first started letting students come in. The number of students started clocking up and things were going very quickly.’
Woodhouse states that within almost 50 minutes, the Food Bank ran out of things. A staff member who was generous enough to give them 60 euros allowed the SU executive to run to the nearest shop and buy more things. But by the time that they returned, there was a line of 20 students waiting. One crate and one shopping bag worth of food provisions was not enough.
‘There was just nothing there. It was heartbreaking and very difficult to see how food insecurity is faced by students. In the past years, there were usually 20 to 30 students that used the food bank. But this time, there were 100 students.
‘But these are just the students that are showing up to ask for help, there are also students who feel ashamed to come ask for help.’
UCC Students Union Food Bank was first introduced in 2019 by then Welfare Officer, Naoise Crowley, but was then not accessible during the pandemic. The current SU executive had found bringing the Food Bank was a necessity especially with everyone coming back but was not an initial priority. Caoimhe Walsh, Welfare Officer had students approaching her, since the beginning of the year, many stating that they could not afford the basic necessities after paying their rent.
Penny Dinners were the first to donate toward the Food Bank. Asha states that Caitríona Twomey saw an increase of students coming to Penny Dinners, availing of their services to receive a hot meal for the day. With those encounters, there were students that were either thinking of dropping out of college or even deferring because they were so starved and under pressure to even afford their basic necessities.
The SU finds themselves in a difficult but fortunate situation where students come with their issues to them, to speak to them and they get to see what is really happening.
UCC Students Union started a GoFundMe on the same Wednesday and within 19 hours were able to raise 15,062 euros, exceeding their 5000 euro goal. Woodhouse states that people have been generous, and it is not just staff and students but also people from outside Cork. So many people wanted to donate and support.
‘All that money will go to buying stuff (food provisions and hygiene products). We will bulk buy it so that it is cheaper. Like we did not get much for the 70 quid that we used at the shop on Wednesday.’
‘I suppose we thought that people wanted to help, people wanted to drop food in and stuff, but also people wanted to give money donations as well.’
There has been no response yet from Simon Harris TD, Minister for Higher Education. Woodhouse states that she has had no direct contact, even though her phone has been ringing all day.
‘I did miss a call from the Minister, but I do not know if it was in relation to this or something else.
‘The issue is the government, the issue is the political climate and the funding model for Higher Level Education and the fact that landlords and private developers have been out of control. I sympathise with the University, but it is the responsibility of the government. Yes, there are funds here and there, but it is just a plaster over a very cracked wall, in my opinion.’
Asha Woodhouse finally states that ‘this is very sad and heartbreaking, but I also think that it is a powerful thing. I think we should also take solace and comfort in the fact that people are so willing to come together to support people and share, and care for people. And that is a very positive thing, an environment and culture that allows you to promote and cherish more. When we forget those things, that’s how we end up in this political climate that we are in now.’