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The government has revealed it’s made a U-turn on extending the free school meal programme to children from low-income families during the school holidays after independent cafés, farm shops and restaurants across the country joined footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign.
Over the weekend, Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed £170m would be set aside for a Covid winter grant scheme to support vulnerable families in England. “The steps made today will improve the lives of nearly 1.7 million children in the UK over the next 12 month,” Marcus Rashford said on Twitter.
“Seeing the role that everyone has played in supporting our most vulnerable children has been the greatest moment of my life. I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of empathy and understanding,” he said. In October, after the government initially rejected calls to extend the scheme, local businesses stepped in to provide free meals for children in their communities.
A recent poll by Piplsay found that 56% of Britons wanted the government to extend the free school meals scheme given the continuing lockdowns, and 37% were either personally impacted by or know families who were affected by the government’s decision.
Support for food banks
Amid this difficult time, Booths also brought forward a scheme that would make it easier for customers to donate to food banks, launching a Buy One Give One Free initiative. While the retailer had originally planned to introduce the scheme in January 2021, it said it was keen to roll out the initiative earlier than planned due to the predicted increase in demand for food banks during the festive period. “As a family owned and operated retailer, we have a responsibility to support our local communities, particularly during these unprecedented times,” explained John Gill, head of marketing and trading.
“The introduction of the scheme will allow us to get more food to those in need in our communities and essentially minimise food poverty, allowing our customers to make a real, positive difference,” added customer experience manager and pioneer behind Booths Food Bank Donation programme Colin Porter.
Robin Ferris, the founder of Bankuet, a start-up that aims to make it easier for food banks to receive donations and supplies, told Speciality Food that figures from the Trussell Trust show that April was the busiest month on record for food banks, with 89% more food parcels given out compared to the same period the year before.
“With the Trussell Trust predicting a 61% rise in food bank usage this winter and a new national lockdown in place, food banks face the challenge of supplies depleting at the same time as the need for food bank items increasing,” Robin said.
During the last lockdown, nearly three million people went hungry according to The Food Foundation. Feeding Britain has identified a new group, the ‘newly hungry’, which are middle-income people who weren’t concerned about putting food on the table before the pandemic, but now find themselves struggling due to Covid-related job losses and gaps in the social security system.
“It all builds up to a huge demand on food banks’ resources over these coming months,” Robin said. Bankuet, which won Speciality Food’s competition to find the most inspiring Covid-19 innovation story earlier this year, has scaled up to help food banks meet this challenge. “One of our largest deliveries to date was over 10,000 individual items to one food bank in London,” Robin said.
Can independent retailers help?
“Local businesses were remarkable in stepping up to help children when the vote to extend free school lunch vouchers throughout the October half term went against the motion in parliament,” said a spokesperson for FareShare, the UK’s national network of charitable food redistributors. “It felt like the country was coming together to help its children when they needed it most.”
Robin said independent businesses can continue to help their local communities by getting in touch with their local food bank. “The key is finding out what items they are looking for – food banks are often deluged with the same types of items and struggle to get the other items their patrons need.” Local food banks can be found on the Bankuet website.
For larger volumes of food supplied more regularly, a spokesperson for FareShare said businesses can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to check whether donations are needed. “The food must be uncooked and ideally have plenty of life on it to allow us to redistribute it safely to where it is needed, to be turned into meals by our 11,000 strong charity network that extends right across the UK,” the spokesperson said.
FareShare saw a tripling in the number of applications to receive food from charities at the beginning of lockdown, and are now delivering double the food volumes that they were pre lockdown. “With the economic turmoil, job losses and second lockdown upon us, we anticipate this demand for food increasing in the coming winter months,” FareShare’s spokesperson said.
Local businesses are often referred to as the heart of their community, and their response to Marcus Rashford’s call to action has proved this to be true. With demand for food only set to grow, local businesses have an opportunity to boost their role in their communities in the coming months.