Major operation underway to prevent holiday hunger this Christmas

The grant will be used to help families to pay for food and bills.

The grant will be used to help families to pay for food and bills. - Credit: Pixabay

Over the next few weeks, a range of community kitchens, holiday clubs, charities and local businesses will be enlisted to coordinate help and support for those who need it the most in every district in Devon.

A major operation is under way in Devon to combat holiday hunger for children this Christmas.

Devon County Council is set to lead the operation to organise networks of providers across the county and will use a £2 million Government grant to support vulnerable children and families in the most effective way.

Leader of Devon County Council, Councillor John Hart, told Wednesday morning’s cabinet meeting: “We are going to receive just over £2 million from the Government and we now have the opportunity to do the right thing.”

Over the next few weeks, a range of community kitchens, holiday clubs, charities and local businesses will be enlisted to coordinate help and support for those who need it the most in every district in Devon.


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They will ensure that every child entitled to Free School Meals will be able to get free food over the Christmas holiday, during the Easter half-term and the Easter holidays.

Devon’s Cabinet member for communities, Cllr Roger Croad, added: “We need to act quickly to ensure that no child goes hungry this Christmas.

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“We envisage that in most areas there will be a range of solutions and options that are geared to meet the needs of their individual communities.

“These are likely to include holiday clubs providing food, cooking sessions, community meals, offers from local cafes and businesses and community larders.

“Our top priority is to ensure those in receipt of free school meals have enough to eat over the holidays. But we also want to help and support people with wider vulnerabilities.”

Cllr Hart added: “This pandemic has been so cruel to so many people. We are aiming to support those families who were suddenly left without money, without a job and without savings as a result of coronavirus.

“I believe it will be an effective and practical way of combating holiday hunger and I want to thank all of the groups that will be working with us.”

The latest statistics show that 14,774 children in Devon are registered for free school meals – 15 per cent of the total school population.

It follows the Government’s U-turn on providing free school meals over the holidays to the poorest children which has been welcomed by Devon’s head of education who said it is a massive step forward of getting support to families.

The UK government had extended free school meals to eligible children during the Easter holidays earlier this year and, after a campaign by Manchester United and England striker Marcus Rashford campaigning, did the same for the summer holiday.

Initially though they refused to do so for half-term and the Christmas holidays, before making a U-Turn this week when a winter grant scheme programme of £400m was announced by Government to provide support with food and bills, with a holiday food and activities programme to be expanded.

Speaking at Tuesday’s Devon County Council children’s scrutiny committee, Dawn Stabb, the council’s head of education said that if properly implemented then it should be a significant step in the right direction for helping children.

Committee chairman Cllr Rob Hannaford had prior to Monday’s announcement put forward a motion to December’s full council meeting that would see the council resolve to use some of the allocated hardship funding to ensure that all eligible children receive free school meal vouchers for the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

He said: “I welcome the change of direction and that had caused a lot of controversy and there were so many families affected by the issue.” Asking Mrs Stabb, he said: “In your opinion, does the current package do all that we would want it to do in Devon and what members wanted it to and can you see in the new scheme, much welcome as it is, any gaps we may need to plug to make sure no families slip through the net?”

In response, she said while they only currently have the headline figures, it is a massive step forward of getting the support to families.

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