A recent parliamentary report has highlighted a “deeply troubling” trend of children returning to school malnourished after holiday periods, and has praised the efforts by community groups including churches who strive to end ‘holiday hunger’.
The inquiry, conducted between February and April 2017 by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on hunger, examined the extent and causes of hunger amongst children during school holidays. It found that up to an estimated three million children are at risk of being hungry out of term time while they do not have access to free school meals, resulting in them arriving back at school “totally unprepared to learn”.
Parishes in our diocese already working to reduce help bridge the nutrition gap during the school holidays include St Paul’s church, Addlestone, and Emmanuel church, Stoughton.
Fun activities and free lunches
Last summer HeBrews coffee shop, part of St Paul’s church in Addlestone, gave out over 100 free packed lunches to local families who might otherwise have struggled to feed their children during the school break.
During the recent Easter holidays, free lunches became just part of a programme of exciting activities that included various crafts, games, animal and reptile petting sessions and face painting – as well as Easter-related worship.
Over the course of the two-week break, HeBrews prepared and gave out over 300 lunches, which included fresh sandwiches, fruit and crudités, crisps and homemade cakes. All the food was donated by Tesco Addlestone via Fareshare, a national organisation that redistributes excess food from industries, as well as the Community Champion funds and monies raised through crowdfunding at Harris & Hoole cafés. This allowed the activities and food to be laid on completely free, although donations were accepted.
HeBrews project manager, Ellie Pool, commented:
“We are increasingly aware of the issue of hunger and deprivation and feel truly blessed to be in the privileged position of being able to accept donations and surplus food and turn it into meals for the children within our community. We hope and pray that more families will feel confident and comfortable about coming forward to accept what we offer with love.
“We hope to repeat a similar project during the summer with a goal of meeting more of Addlestone’s hungriest children and helping to prevent hunger and malnutrition in our future generation.”
Hampers and home cooking
Emmanuel church, Stoughton in Guildford, responded to the issue by setting up a ‘holiday hamper’ scheme during the school holidays, which sees them deliver fresh fruit, vegetables and salads to low-income families to supplement the staples they get from foodbanks.
For the longer holidays, the church provide supermarket vouchers to enable families to purchase extra supplies.
Project organiser, Terry Reddin, explained:
“What we discovered really shook us – over fifty families in our community who were barely surviving, often going hungry or cold. Our families did make use of the local food banks, but access was restricted to no more than three collections and no fresh food was available. It was clear to us that this safety net, though valued , was simply not adequate.
“We therefore set up a hardship fund – initially we asked for food donations from the congregation, which were generously given. These were packed into hampers and delivered by volunteers at the start of each school holiday when we knew that children would be going hungry.
“This Easter break we sent out 58 hampers – they were really appreciated.”
In response to requests, Emmanuel also ran a cookery course to teach parents how to provide their children with cheap, nutritious meals – whilst developing new skills and self-esteem.
At each weekly class, the would-be cooks learned how to make a main dish and pudding, which they then took home along with the ingredients to recreate the meal in their home environment.
Terry added: “Most of these families have not been brought up to cook. Many of them lived off fast food, microwave meals and takeaways. So this has been a hugely successful course where they have learned cookery skills, as well as how to save money and feel in control of what they give their children to eat. Some have even volunteered to help staff the church coffee shop, adding expertise that will be valuable when looking for work.”
One mum said: “I feel like a proper mum now and my kids love all the dishes I am making and I have the confidence to cook things now which I would never have tried.”
If you think tyour church could do something similar, speak to Jo Cookes, director of communities engagement, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01483 790 330.
“This is a real opportunity for parishes to demonstrate God’s love for their community and respond with compassion.
“Now is the time for parishes to commit to helping reduce holiday hunger this summer – it could be as simple as including lunch in your holiday club offering. Organisations such as Make Lunch can provide support if needed, even cooking meals in the church kitchens.
“Whether you need advice on how to identify and approach families in need, how best to support them sensitively, or details of existing organisations helping families, we can assist you in this vital outreach and would love to hear from you."