Help the hungry


Covid-19 has driven a surge in free school meal registrations but, with half term under way, thousands of children across the South East are at risk of going hungry because free meals are “normally only provided during school term-time”. This is despite the government’s policy to provide free school meal provision during the last summer holidays.

While the debate raged in parliament, the government claimed that it has already given funds to local authorities for Covid related community support, but the position is far from clear. The chancellor says “the government has already given money to councils in England for free school meals in the holidays” and he went on to say that they are “absolutely committed” to making sure vulnerable children do not go hungry.

So what is the position? The government says that money for free school meals is covered both by the benefit system and separate allocations to local councils. But we know that the benefit system has a built in delay of five weeks or longer and the Covid allocations of government money to the local level are comparatively small.

In East Sussex, most of the large sums were committed within 12 weeks to help fund the fifteen foodbanks; to provide small grants to organisations that work with food bank users such as the food box delivery; to develop local food partnerships to ensure long term sustainability; to fund vouchers to people in food poverty via Citizens Advice and to provide communication.

Free in term time

Free school meals in term time are provided per head for those registered students of families on Income Support; Jobseeker’s Allowance; Employment and Support Allowance; on State Pension Credit; Child Tax Credit and with low incomes, and those who stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit and for immigrant programmes.

But when the holidays come, responsibility falls back to the family. As poverty does not cease in the school holidays, many believe that funding for free school meals should be available all year round, to ensure support for vulnerable children. With Covid-19 on the rise, the situation for many families experiencing food insecurity is worsening.

[Editor’s note: But our local MP has a different view, though the facts are worrying].

Autumn and winter bring increased heating and lighting costs, putting household food budgets under even further pressure. Of course we are reminded that there are county wide helplines and websites for formal requests for assistance, but for some they present a challenge too far.

This week’s offer at Tilling Green

So this week, while the talking continued, members of the community stepped up to deliver. Individuals like former councillor Gemma Blumire organised food from the Tilling Green Centre. Several local businesses, including the Borough Arms, the Corridor Cafe and the Winchelsea Lodge offered food packs. The Rye Food Bank under newly installed honorary freeman Chris Emson continued its deliveries at pace. Much of the funding has come from donations.

What about the future? REACT, Rye Mutual Aid and Rye Food Bank have all the contacts with partners to help provide further local support. We are in touch with the most involved, but resources (time and money) are limited. For the immediate future there will be enough to go round, but Christmas is on the horizon and if government policy does not change then we will see a repeat of the earlier situation.

To avoid a bleak Christmas for some of the most vulnerable, various initiatives are being considered to help. If you can spare anything then please donate to the Rye Food bank, open each Wednesday lunchtime at Rye Baptist Church.

For more information: @ryeact, and ESCIS.

Image Credits: Anthony Kimber .

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  1. Elsewhere in Rye News the MP makes the point that children are the responsibility of their parents. Why this should be contentious escapes me. Indeed, I wonder what outcry would result if the children of feckless parents were taken into care? There is so much help available and child allowance is generous too. I watched a piece on a ‘charity’ giving school lunch bags – Crisps and Chocolate bars were a main feature. A far cry from my childhood when if I could not scrump apples (having eaten our own) I would walk to school and use my bus fare to buy them. Oh well, different times, different priorities.

    The, seemingly, well meaning campaign to provide free meals runs the risk of increasing the ‘entitlement’ attitude that is increasingly prevalent – that individuals have ‘rights’, but not obligations. I do not dispute that there is a problem, nor that a small minority if people and their children are struggling to cope. However, I do think there is an opportunity that is being overlooked.

    Once a month I make a huge pot of fried onions. It is divided in three to form the base of three different meals. Bolognaise sauce, Chili Coin Carne and a chicken curry. The resulting meals are frozen and last the month. All these meals can be produced for less than a £ for two. It’s a question of shopping sensibly. Instead of handouts and free meals open the schools for cooking lessons. Anyone who wants to eat (no discrimination) would turn up and help prepare the ingredients, join in the cooking and then enjoy what they had produced. To help the process every attendee should be given an apron and a basic spice and condiment pack, essential in making tasty dishes. Apart from filling a stomach gap, such a scheme would also fill an educational gap and provide a firm foundation for future self care.

    • Dear Michael,

      Your idea for cooking lessons in schools is good, and something I’ve been mulling for some time. However, with some characteristic hesitancy, I thought perhaps that someone else might already be doing this, and in any case, wondered how I might fund a project. But those are not reasons to avoid the issue, which is real now and possibly going to get worse in the coming months.
      I’m a professional Healthy chef for over 30 years and am looking for a new opportunity. Having worked some time ago as Head Chef at Bodiam Manor prep school, and since working with a recent private client (a well known young British You Tube star and Rapper), and in a London college for complimentary health, I have been thinking about how I could work more closely with the young people in my own local communities, to share my enthusiasm and knowledge for Healthy Life cooking and nutrition.
      Learning kitchen skills = healthier living ( long term – not just in crisis times)
      Nutrition Knowledge = better performance ( long term -in education, sports, and work – not just in crisis times).
      There is a lot of red tape to starting a project like this…but with the right support, organising regular healthy life cooking classes for local youngsters (and their parents too ?) is desirable and doable.
      I think that child food security is a responsibility we all share…..Food edcuation helps reduce food poverty.

      Ofcourse, there is no point in duplicating effort, or doing something for the sake of it…SO if someone is already doing a project like this, maybe I can contribute in some way? Please get in touch.

  2. It is such a shame that we get so hung up on the rights and wrongs of this huge issue. ‘Feckless parents’? Really? What must it feel like to know you are unable to provide for your family, especially the children? Surely all we need to focus on is the fact that there are people, in this day and age, who are going hungry and unable to buy the food they need. This, in itself, is shocking in a civilised society but to condemn those who are stuck in such a poverty cycle is not helpful. What we need right now is to fire-fight and help those on the ground, not criticise them for their misfortune. The lucky ones (and I consider myself to be so) can debate the politics of the situation later from the safety of their comfortable lives.

  3. The commenter above did not click through to read the actual figures on poverty in Rye and Hastings – 37.8% of children under 16 are in POVERTY. All very well and good for those of us who can afford the good things in life to pontificate about ‘neglect’ and indulge in the nostalgia for our oh so self-empowered boot-strapping youth. The local MP response was also breathtakingly lacking in compassion. Kudos to all the good-hearted people of Rye from all political stripes who are stepping up to fill the enormous gaps left by central government austerity. No child should go hungry. Perhaps Mr. Scrooge (and Mrs. MP Scrooge) will learn this lesson somehow in time for the Christmas holidays?

  4. What a shame that contributors rushed to criticise without, it seems, bothering to read my comment or its suggestion. If it helps, I was born during the war one of four children and we were poor. Rationing did not help, but my Mother was very good at stretching rations to make nourishing meals. This stood me in good stead when age 23 I was married with wife and child and poor too. We managed, although I must say Shepherd’s Pie and Cauliflower Cheese got a bit monotonous. We got and took no help, but did succeed and went on to buy our home. So, I know whereof I speak. Giving boots to the poor may have made well off Victorian feel warm inside, but I doubt it helped the poor to earn money to buy their own boots.

    My simple suggestion that one could combine learning about cooking and self help while providing hot meals is, I believe, a simple fun way to address the problem. Those who prefer the warm glow of dispensing charity may not like it, but those – like me – who have been poor will recognise its merit and potential to help in a non condescending way. Poor people have pride, it should not be abused.

  5. My mother and father had nothing in fact you might say we was poor but we had each other and stuck together like family should do
    My mother & fathers family started in 1938 when the first of my brother and sister were born altogether with mum & dad 10 of us lived in one house with no help from the authorities until 1946 when the family allowance was introduced mum would make solid every day meals. Porridge , bread puddings and bread dripping was always a favourite not once can I or my brothers or sisters were hungry or starved in the school holidays why on earth don’t the school-start up domestic science for girls and boys then Maybe this generation would cope much better then just living out of the freezer or takeaways.

  6. I support the food bank in Rye and also feel the free packed lunches during this half term have been an excellent idea for those families in urgent need and this support MUST continue! However I do agree that providing help in creating heathy meals for the future and looking at ways to make that food go a little further would be a great asset to run along side the present support there is. Also I feel that part of the school curriculum particularly in secondary schools should include compulsory cooking lessons which provide education on creating heathy meals, using leftovers rather than throwing them away, the storing of food for the future and budgeting. (I am not meaning the odd lesson). I know it is very difficult for schools to try and fit everything in and with pressure from parents for children to come out of school with straight A’s! However there is a life balance here in that providing good exercise and cooking skills when those are young will also stand them in very good stead for the future!


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