The schools breaking up bring up the same thoughts and questions for families each year. Such as ‘how about a week away in Cornwall?’… ‘or should it be two weeks on the Costas?’… Unfortunately for some the only pressing question is ‘how are we going to feed our children over the next 6 weeks?’
Research by Kellogg’s indicates that 1 in 8 children don’t get enough to eat during the school holidays. It’s sadly both heart-breaking and unsurprising that teachers witness children returning in September with their old uniform noticeably looser than when they left 6 weeks earlier. The safety net of free school meals is pulled when the caretaker locks the doors mid-July.
Over 1 million youngsters in the UK rely on free school meals during term time. Low income families receive this valuable support to ensure that their child does not go without a hot meal during the school term as the cost of the school dinner is perceived as an obstacle. And rightly so. What makes us think however that low income families can suddenly afford the extra meal per day over the long summer break? Rising food inflation over the past 10 years has meant that higher proportions of incomes are spent on food – the purses of vulnerable families, living in poverty being squeezed the most. The rising cost of leisure rules out many summer activities which leads to the uncomfortable reality of some children being under occupied and underfed for a 6 week period.
Holiday hunger impacts on the most vulnerable in all developed nations – not just the UK. Responses however vary.
Lessons can be learned from the USA’s Summer Food Service Programme which has evolved over the past forty years. Providers there are reimbursed for serving meals to children in deprived areas and other creative schemes exist across many states. Capacity is exploited to the full so that otherwise unused school kitchens and school buses are put to good use to ensure that many of the 170 days of school closure is not matched in terms of children’s hunger. Meaningful activities compliment the food on offer and this also helps to destigmatise the provision as it’s not just about sending your child for a free meal. Sports personalities endorsing the schemes under the heading ‘Summer Meals Rock’ add to this and increase take up. The overarching No Kid Hungry campaign in the US has delivered the goods. This provision is funded by the Federal State.
There are great schemes here in the UK too. I visited FareShare in Liverpool recently and witnessed the valuable support they provide. Each summer break, 52 play schemes benefit from surplus food deliveries – 1 umbrella organisation funded this vital service. However we could do so much more.
The capacity is there. School kitchens remain closed over the holidays and, if the will and the funding was there, they could be utilised for summer activity and feed schemes. Kitchens also exist in dozens of community centres within each county. This at a time when 3 million tonnes of food is wasted by the food industry and projects such as FareShare try and link as much of this food as possible to people in need. FareShare North East will proactively engage with other charities and council departments to increase the provision to holiday hunger schemes.
If you’ve any contacts that could help us to achieve this then please get in touch.