Group feeding vulnerable children in Norwich in free meals call for all holidays
- Credit: Archant
Free meals for schoolchildren should happen every holiday, not just during the coronavirus pandemic, says an organisation which has been helping keep some of the city’s most vulnerable youngsters fed.
Manchester United star Marcus Rashford prompted a government u-turn which means 1.3m children in England, including 14,000 in Norfolk, will be able to claim free school meal vouchers in the summer holidays.The government said it would not continue beyond term time, but the England striker’s campaign helped keep it running.
But that does not go far enough, say volunteers who provide free food to families from Norwich’s Mile Cross area and further afield.
The Unite Community Norfolk branch has, from the Phoenix Centre, provided packed lunches to prevent children going hungry in the holidays for the past three years.Brian Green, secretary for Unite Community Norfolk, said the need is there every year, not just this summer holiday - and that it also extends beyond those who are eligible for free school lunches.
He said: “This summer, we expect we will be providing more meals than we did over the whole of the previous year. Each year the demand for these meals has grown.
“We have seen at first hand the effect of poverty, and the difficulty and sadness of parents unable to feed their children adequately during the holidays.”
The meals, which include sandwiches with healthy fillings, yoghurt, fruit, cartons of fruit juice and a treat, made and packaged by a team of 20 volunteers, are paid for via money raised by Unite, help from the trustees of the Phoenix Centre and grants.
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But Mr Green believes the government should be responsible for making sure children who have free school meals continue receiving them during holidays.
Last year, the union launched a campaign calling for that, which has been relaunched under the slogan ‘Free school meals during the holiday is not just for Covid, it is for always.’
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Mr Green said: “Without them, parents will go hungry so they can feed their children, particularly some of the single mothers who will go without, so their kids can be fed.”
He added: “We’d like to remind our prime minister children are just as hungry during the holidays as they are during term time.”
“Coming here just makes such a difference”, according to one of the parents who makes use of the lunches from the project.
Mum Louise, who picked up lunch from the Unite Community Norfolk project on Friday, said she based her week’s meals on what she gets in the lunches.
She said: “It’s really useful, because I’ve got several children. And, obviously, with the COVID-19, it’s meant we’ve got less money coming in. With them being at home all the time, it means we are getting through so much food.
“Coming here just makes such a difference. For one thing, everyone is just so friendly and another thing you get a really good variety of food and you don’t have to pay for it.
“There’s usually loads of fruit and veg, as much bread as you want. It’s just a huge variety and you never know what you’re going to get. That’s what’s nice about it. We base the next week’s meals around what we get here.”