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'It's a dark time': 700 free lunches handed to families as holiday hunger bites

PUBLISHED: 16:26 08 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:27 08 August 2019

Freddie Bull, President of the Hellesdon Woman�s Institute, volunteering at the Mile Cross packed lunch project. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Freddie Bull, President of the Hellesdon Woman�s Institute, volunteering at the Mile Cross packed lunch project. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

Volunteers have bust their budget in the first two weeks of the summer break as demand has soared for free packed lunches that help families to beat holiday hunger.

Brian Green, Organiser at the Mile Cross packed lunch project. Picture: Jamie HoneywoodBrian Green, Organiser at the Mile Cross packed lunch project. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

The scheme based at a Norwich community centre is giving out three times as many lunches per week to people as it did in its first year last summer.

It has led to fears that charities are "shoring up the welfare state" as benefits freezes take their hold.

Last year, Norfolk Unite Community, part of the Unite Union, launched the project to hand out free lunches with no questions asked, to children living in the Mile Cross area of Norwich.

Throughout last summer the project, designed to help families who would normally receive free school meals cover extra costs during the holidays, provided around 600 lunches.

Freddie Bull, President of the Hellesdon Woman�s Institute, volunteering at the Mile Cross packed lunch project. Picture: Jamie HoneywoodFreddie Bull, President of the Hellesdon Woman�s Institute, volunteering at the Mile Cross packed lunch project. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

But within the first two weeks of this summer, the project has already given out more than 700 meals and gone over budget.

Brian Green, branch secretary of the Unite Community branch in Norfolk, said at their busiest volunteers were giving out 100 lunches a day but expected this to rise to 120 by mid-summer.

He said there was a look of desperation in people's eyes which he had not seen in the UK before.

He said: "When I was a student in South Africa in the 1970s, I belonged to the voluntary service. We used to go rural areas and when we would provide food there was this look in people's eyes. For the first time I've seen that in Britain.

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"All five of us were shocked, with people trying to get to the tables as fast as they could. It's a very dark time in British history."

Mr Green said he believed a freeze on benefits was one of the main factors. He also rejected claims that an increase in demand was due to the free food on offer.

He said: "It's the opposite. People are too proud to come and take charity - it's not that things are free, it's actually the opposite.

"We don't ask questions, we just give out the food, we understand that a lot of people are too proud."

Vaughan Thomas, Labour councillor for Mile Cross ward, said: "It's fantastic that the community is coming together to help on another but it's a crying shame that they have to do it.

"It's always been the way during the summer time that families who normally have free school meals struggle and that has combined with Universal Credit. We have always had a good welfare state in this country, but this is people shoring that up."

Lunches will be provided from the Phoenix Centre on Mile Cross Road until August 30.

To help meet the extra demand faced by this year's Mile Cross holiday hunger scheme, organisers have set up a Just Giving page.

To donate to the project visit: www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/fightingholidayhunger?utm_term=wJMnbRYka

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