Local campaign #FeedCheltenham have experienced an increase in families relying on support from food banks, churches and charities over half term to make ends meet.
During this week school children are on half term, meaning those normally entitled to free school meals may be at risk of going hungry without the extra support.
Sarah Avery, the co-ordinator of the #FeedCheltenham campaign says:
“We’re seeing probably about thirty five food parcels go out a day and probably about ten to fifteen food vouchers go out a day…we’re definitely seeing an increase in demand.”
The government extended free school meals over Easter and Summer holidays in response to pressure from the public and petition led by Man United footballer Marcus Rashford. However, voted to stop this support over October half term.
The #FeedCheltenham network is a direct response to the increased numbers of those going hungry as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic this year. The campaign has stepped in the gap after Conservative MPs voted against Labour’s attempt to extend free school meals by three hundred and twenty two votes to two hundred and sixty one last week. They provide families with a range of options including food parcels, a home-cooked, family-sized meal or supermarket vouchers.
Roger Whyborn, the mayor of Cheltenham said:
“During the pandemic, the community food network was providing the equivalent of over two thousand and five hundred meals per week to vulnerable people in Cheltenham, demonstrating how kindness and compassion flourished in difficult times.”
In Cheltenham, there are currently around three thousand one hundred children in Cheltenham eligible for free school meals, but during half term there is a risk that these children will go hungry.
“My biggest concern is the children that are falling through the gap, say you’ve got children who are entitles to free school meals and there is some help available to them, granted not a lot. Then there is the issue of this week in terms of their holidays. But a lot of the work we see and the people we are helping are those families who lost their income due to Covid.”
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic many families have been impacted by unemployment and financial difficulties.
“let’s say you did have a full-time job on minimum wage, you might not have the ability to save or respond to a crisis.” This means over half term families are relying on the support offered by the network of charities, churches and organisations.
Many local cafes and restaurants have stepped in to offer free meals over half-term. Restaurants and cafes such as Bar and Wok and Simpsons fish bar in Cheltenham have been some of the first to offer their support.
“Feed Cheltenham has raised about a hundred thousand pounds since March and we have spent a hundred thousand pounds. We’ve been giving out roughly around four thousand pounds a week.”
With this kind of demand campaign is encouraging people to donate and give whatever they can to support local families and children to make sure all children and fed and provided for throughout difficult times.
Despite the challenges, Sarah says:
“What has been a positive is the way people have been willing to rally together and help those that are in need. I had a gentleman from a campaign tell me that if he could have only helped one child, that would have been worth it.”