A food bank isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for school holidays as well.
And as pupils break up for the summer on Friday, charities are bracing themselves for a surge in demand from hard-up parents struggling to put meals on the table.
Children who enjoy a free school lunch during term time face going hungry over the holidays as families find they are unable to bridge the food gap.
One food bank in Chorley is gearing up to provide more than 2,000 packed lunches for youngsters to meet the extra demand.
Staff at Preston’s Salvation Army food bank are expecting to hand out more parcels than normal over the next five to six weeks - busier even than Christmas.
And the Trussell Trust, which runs more than 400 food banks throughout the UK, says the situation is so grave that at least one in five parents will skip meals during the holidays so they have enough food to feed their children.
Today the Post is launching its Summer Bites campaign to encourage traditionally generous and caring Lancashire folk to support their local food bank at its time of greatest need.
“We see a greater demand for family food parcels in the summer than we do in the Christmas period,” said Captain Alex Cadogan of the Salvation Army in Preston which also covers Chorley, Leyland and Garstang.
“Summer is usually a time when donations to the food bank are quite low, so it’s a perfect storm in some respects.”
Figures from the Trussell Trust show they handed out food parcels to 174,489 people in the North West during 2016/17 - 66,000 of those children.
No one knows the full scale of hunger in the school holidays yet, but these figures make one thing clear, many families are closer to crisis than we think.
Across the country the charity provided more than one million three-day emergency packages to people in crisis for the third consecutive year.
The North West saw the highest number of people helped - more than in London and the whole of Scotland.
During the Easter holidays this year food banks handed out more than 140,000 parcels to hungry children unable to access free school meals.
That figure is expected to be dwarfed by the demand facing charities during the longer summer break.
“Families who rely on free school meals during term time can find themselves facing hunger in the school holidays, when there is an extra financial pressure to provide main meals,” explained David McAuley, Trussell Trust chief executive.
“No one knows the full scale of hunger in the school holidays yet, but these figures make one thing clear, many families are closer to crisis than we think.
“It should be a wake-up call to us all that so many children will have a parent expecting to skip a meal or more this summer so they can feed the family.”
In 2015 the Trust supplied 5,000 more emergency food parcels to children in July and August, compared to the months of May and June. The figures for 2016 are due to be published next week and are expected to be even higher.
In Chorley the Living Waters food bank has decided special packed lunches for children should help ease the pressure on parents.
“During the summer, if you have three hungry children at home all day it can be a nightmare, so the idea grew out of a concern for that,” said volunteer Pat Webb.
“Because we volunteer at the food bank we are aware of people having a hard time buying food. These people who are coming to us really struggle to afford food and they will struggle in the summer as well.”
Children accompanied by an adult will be able to pick up packed lunches at three different venues in the town on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the summer break. The packages will include a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a drink and a snack. Teachers at local schools will be helping to hand them out.
Pat said: “All the teachers who are volunteering their time are very glad to help. They said that they care about the kids and they do sometimes worry about them over the summer holidays.
“It’s the first year we’re doing it so we hope that it will be much bigger next year.”
Organiser of the food bank, Carol Halton, revealed that although the numbers coming to the service have remained the same, the number of referrals from schools had increased.
She said: “I was talking to a recently retired teacher the other day and she told me that what some of her students had at their lunchtime was the only meal they were getting in the day.
“If they didn’t get their lunch they wouldn’t be eating that day.”
Statistics issued by the Trussell Trust show 40 per cent of parents worry about the extra costs of paying for childcare during the summer holidays.
A fifth - amounting to around 1.5m nationwide - will skip one meal or more to make sure there is enough food for their children to eat.
When asked about ways in which pressures over the school summer holidays could be eased for lower income families, 67 per cent of parents with children agreed that it should not fall to charities to provide extra support to low income families who found it difficult to feed and pay for extra childcare costs in the holidays.
Almost 60 per cent believed the government and local councils should do more to provide extra help to low income families during the school summer holiday period.