Shop in Riverchapel is offering free items to those struggling to make ends meet across Wexford

A Riverchapel-based support service that was set up for Ukrainians arriving in Ireland has been extended to people across the community in response to growing difficulties people are having in paying for basic needs.

The recently renamed Riverchapel Community Free Cycle is a free bike shop that aims to help people meet their basic needs, as well as provide them with a place to come and chat and meet other people. Every Tuesday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., a shop is set up in the Riverchapel Community Complex where people can pick up donated clothing, food, toiletries, toys, and other basics for free.

The service was created ten months ago by mother-daughter duo, Liz and Áine Byrne, under its original name, Riverchapel Friends of Ukraine.

“It all started when my mother and I took in a Ukrainian woman and her son. She was one of the first to arrive. We realized there was nothing to support her, so we started looking at what we could do to help her,” explained Áine. “Craig Lang was fantastic. He gave us the hub and we initially used it as a space for tea, chat and English lessons. As people arrived we realized they had nothing. Some arrived without even a toothbrush. So we decided we had to do more.

Áine and Liz quickly created the store and a Facebook page, where they appeal for special donations and publicize their work.

“As we were putting tracks on Facebook, we were getting messages from Irish people asking if it was open to anyone. I told this first lady she was more than welcome, and she came to get this we were talking to Craig and others in the area and realized that this is a very poor sanitation area. People give up things in their groceries, mostly produce from hygiene, to buy food or pay rent, so we decided to open more. As we opened it, more and more people arrived. No one was extravagant in what he had We are asked for such basic things,” Áine said.

At first, all items were purchased and donated by Liz herself. As the demand for support grew, they appealed for donations from businesses and individuals in the community.

According to the pair, the support they’ve received has been fantastic. However, as the demand for items increases, they find that they cannot get enough donations.

“Yesterday we could barely cope without the number of people who came,” Liz said. “We’re going to start from scratch next week.”

“Everyone comes and only takes what they need because everyone knows what it’s like to be in that position. Yesterday we were very lucky when our clothes rails emptied so quickly that we had stuff in the hub for the winter that we could put away,” Áine said. “We try to keep our heads above water ourselves. Some weeks we have nothing to offer. My mum has been fantastic, when this happened she would say ‘Come here to Dunnes, let’s see what we can get for £50’.

Every Tuesday, people of all nationalities and walks of life come through the doors of the hub to browse items and chat. It’s a place where everyone is welcome, and no one will question their personal situation or why they are there, Áine said.

“Some people try to explain themselves and say they wouldn’t normally be here. I say ‘it’s fine, you have nothing to say to me,’ Áine said. “We always have coffee, tea and cookies. Some people will come and sit with us and talk if they want.

“These are conversations that we don’t repeat to anyone,” Liz said. “It’s heartbreaking to see a mother walk through the door for the first time and say, ‘Oh my God, I’m here. My family is here’. But they have to realize that no badges are attached to anyone walks in. We’re all the same, we’ve all been to a place where we need help or need someone.

“A lot of people who come here work. Some of them even hold two jobs. But the cost of rent is so high, diesel is so high, electricity is so high, childcare is so high and they are struggling,” Áine said.

Along with giving people a place to grab essentials for free, the hub also gives people from across the community the chance to mingle and learn from each other.

“Many Ukrainian children don’t learn English, only what they learn in school. Summer is long,” Áine said. “We’ve been successful in getting English lessons for adults in the Tara Vie and the Upton, but we’re trying to make sure the kids keep mixing and picking up stuff.”

Liz and Áine devote much of their free time and energy to the hub. While they currently open the service two hours a week on Tuesdays, they spend many hours each week answering calls and messages, setting up the hub and washing donated clothes.

According to Liz, it is her own experiences coupled with the arrival of Ukrainians in Ireland that inspires her to support others.

“I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I had six children and when my marriage broke up things were tough. I relied on friends and I relied on my family and when I saw these people arriving with nothing, I said to myself: “I am a mother, I am a nanny, I am an aunt”. I have to do something to help”. The initial spark was with the Ukrainians, but then we spread it to everyone. It opened my eyes to a lot of things I had never seen before because I was too busy living my own life,” Liz said.

The mother-daughter duo want to expand the service further and are currently looking for a place that will allow them to open more than two hours a week. They ask anyone who can offer them a location to contact them.

“We need something more central, available and accessible to people,” Liz said. “More and more people are contacting us, so now the need has increased for bigger premises so we can be open longer than two hours on Tuesdays. Don’t get me wrong, the resort and the team here We need someone who can donate some free space that we can open more regularly.

For more information on Riverchapel Community Free Cycle, visit their Facebook page.

Christy J. Olson