The Brosna Art Group raised almost €650 for the Ken Smollen Food Appeal from the proceeds of a raffle that run during their recent art exhibition. The members presented Ken Smollen la with the check, from left, Mary Curran, Patricia Leogue, Kai Keegan, Ken Smollen and Mary Murtagh.

Families struggling to put food on table

The number of struggling Westmeath families receiving food parcels from local food poverty charities has reached records levels as the cost of living crisis pushes more and more people below the poverty line.

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner this week, Ken Smollen, the founder of the Ken Smollen Food Appeal, revealed that the charity is delivering food parcels to over 1,200 households across the midlands each month, including over 350 in Westmeath.

Mr Smollen says that every day the message box in his phone is filled with new requests for help from families in Westmeath and neighbouring counties who have “reached their limits”.

“Things are getting a lot worse. I know a lot of people were already rationing food [before the rise in the cost of living] and they were used to doing it. Things have gone so bad now with mortgage interest rate increases and rents going up, as well as other cost of living increases, that more people than ever are looking for help at this stage. I have well over 1,200 families now and that is just increasing every day.”

Although the number of families seeking help is going up all the time, Smollen says that he and his team are coping with the rise in demand thanks to the generosity of people.

“Thankfully the number of people, schools, clubs and companies that are offering help is going up too. I am collecting huge amounts of food, more than ever before, because I think people are becoming more aware of the situation and they want to help.”

Smollen says that many of the people seeking help are ashamed that they are unable to make ends meet and that not even their families or closest friends know that they are struggling.

“There is poverty everywhere but people are keeping it so silent, because of feelings of shame, embarrassment and pride. I know women who are going without food two or three days a week and they haven’t told their partners because they don’t want them to worry.

“Over the last two years, 11 families that I call to have lost a member through suicide and most of them, seven or eight, were mothers.

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