After the UK government voted against pleas to extend free school meals to children over the half term holidays, food outlets and councils across the country have stepped up to help.
Supermarkets, restaurants and cafes, along with local councils, are now helping to support vulnerable families by offering free food.
Free meals and support
More than 70 outlets around the UK have joined the cause after the Labour motion to extend free school meals in England over the holidays was rejected, despite a huge campaign led by Manchester United footballer, Marcus Rashford.
Since MPs voted against the extension of free school meals, McDonald’s has announced it will donate funding to provide one million meals to families in need through the charity FareShareUK, with the funding enabling the urgent redistribution of meals over the next couple of weeks to those in greatest need.
Morrisons has also joined the national effort, and is donating 15,000 lunch boxes across the UK. Staff will prepare 30 lunch boxes each in their 498 stores over half term, which will then be delivered to local food banks and schools to be distributed to children who need them. The box includes a freshly made sandwich, a piece of fruit and a Soreen snack pack.
Competitor supermarket, Co-op, has pledged to provide free school meal vouchers for more than 5,000 vulnerable children at schools in the Co-op Academies Trust, with each eligible child to be given a £20 voucher towards food over half term.
Asda is donating almost £100,000 to give families access to food during the school holidays, via Asda’s dedicated Community Champions in 387 of its stores. The funds will be spent on food for groups providing services to children over half term.
This comes in addition to the Asda Foundation’s Healthy Holiday grants, which are worth up to £1,000 each and are designed to help charities and local groups provide healthy holiday activities, including meals and support services.
While Iceland isn’t providing free meals, it is offering £1 bags of vegetables for free to parents with a Healthy Start voucher, and will be running in-store promotions to help over half term.
Several restaurants have also extended their help, including Vietnamese chain Pho, which is giving away 6,000 free meals over the current school holiday. Starting at midday, each restaurant will give out 50 free meals per day to those who need them, with vegetable fried rice and a piece of fruit.
Various other food chains, local cafes, fish and chip shops, and football clubs across the country have also offered to provide free meals during the October break. These include the Qoot chain of restaurants in London, Baker’s Tea Room in Manchester, Handsworth Inn in Sheffield, Mumtaz in Leeds, Goodmans in Hastings, Jordan’s Cafe in Worthing, Kuti’s Brasseries in Southampton, The Village Fish Bar in Preston, The Courtyard Cafe in Wigan, and La Rondine in Bedford, among many more.
Several local councils have offered to provide free food parcels and vouchers to help struggling parents over half term.
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council are all providing food parcels for families, while Kensington and Chelsea council will provide almost 3,300 youngsters with £15 vouchers from their schools to cover the cost of meals during the holiday.
Wandsworth Council approved a £10,000 food voucher scheme, and Medway Council is using money from the government’s emergency assistance grant specifically to provide free school meals to families.
Birmingham City Council pledged to provide 61,000 eligible youngsters with meals in a scheme which will cost the local authority between £800,000 and £1 million, and the mayor of Liverpool said he was “not prepared to stand by and watch,” as he announced £300,000 of funding.
Coventry City Council said it was supporting the Coventry Food Network to help feed disadvantaged children in the city and Northamptonshire County Council (NCC) promised it would provide free school meal vouchers to eligible children “using the money received from central government and provided to NCC for Covid-19-related costs, which includes support for children.”
Leeds City Council also announced its ‘Healthy Holidays’ programme, to provide free activities and meals to vulnerable children in the city, following the efforts from Marcus Rashford. Leeds United Football Club has since pledged to donate an extra £25,000 to the council’s campaign.
Elsewhere in the sporting world, Manchester United Football Club is distributing 5,000 cooked meals to local school children as part of its partnership with FareShare. Luton Town is also providing 250 meals per day. Pinchbeck United is offering breakfast in the morning and a hot meal in the afternoon, and Chatham Town is offering free meals at the club or by delivery.