The Little Flower Penny Dinners: “we are concentrating on survival”

The famous Little Flower in Meath Street has been forced to close its building and go fully ‘Meals on Wheels’ – while the number of people seeking their services has increased by two thirds: it’s delivering over 500 meals per week. 

“The work we do is about so much more than the food,” Ruth Harkness, general manager of Little Flower penny dinners says. “So although we now provide a takeaway lunch service it is just not the same.” 

Harkness said that with the closure of the building, volunteers find it much harder to locate usual service users. This leads to many of their regulars not being able to benefit from their services. “We still try to watch out for our service users, but it is much more difficult when the building is closed. 

“Pre-Covid our building was like a community hub with groups like The Lady’s Club, bingo clubs, film club meeting weekly,” she adds – most users were of post-retirement age.

The Little Flower Penny Dinners has resided at 11 Meath Street in Dublin since 1912. Its website says that the organisation was set up by the parish and local community in response to the high levels of poverty in the area. 

“Back when it first began the British owned a lot of buildings that locals of the Liberties had to live in, and often these buildings went to ruin,” says Les D’Arcy, 57, a long-time Liberties resident.

“The penny dinners got its name from the fact that you had to pay a penny for the dinner they provided.” D’Arcy says that today you pay €2 for a meal, roughly equivalent to the old penny. 

The charity was named in honor of St Thèrese of Lisieux, known as the ‘little flower’, who died in 1897, only 15 years before the centre opened in Dublin. 

A group of people standing next to a white van

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Photo provided by The Little Flower Facebook page. 

The organisation’s group of 30 volunteers has been reduced to about eight, due to the fact that many of them were elderly and have had to isolate for the last year, Harkness explains. The current smaller team have been working around the clock.  

“They have gone above and beyond to help us through this difficult time. We could not have done it without them.” 

Covid-19 has brought a big change to how the organisation is run which has also put a huge strain on the Little Flower’s ability to fundraise. As the penny dinners are 90% self-funded without the opportunity to host events, the organisation now relies on online donations as its main form of income. 

Celebrities like Imelda May and Darryl Higman have helped boost the organisations fundraising with online concerts. The organisation has also ramped up its social media presence to keep locals informed and to spread awareness of their services.  

People can use their website to donate online or donations can be sent by mail. Volunteers are always welcome, and they are always looking for drivers for ‘Meals on Wheels’. 

Harkness says:  “Our service users are part of the Little Flower – they are the reason we all do what we do.” 

“Our service users are part of The Little Flower they are the reason we all do what we do.”

Ruth Harkness the general manager of Little Flower penny dinners

Although the main concern at the moment is the survival of the organisation, Harkness says: “In the longer term I would like to see us expand and perhaps provide more services for children.” There is a huge need for more care available for children in poverty, she says, and she hopes the Little Flower organisation can provide some. 

To volunteer as a driver for the Little Flower’s ‘Meals on Wheels’ please contact Ray on 089 608 4159. Harkness says even one day a week from 10am to 1pm would be hugely beneficial to them. 

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