Fourteen per cent of UK families with children have experienced food insecurity in the six months up to August/September 2020, up from 11.5% before the pandemic. That’s according to research conducted by the New Food Foundation. The figure accounts for four million people, including 2.3 million children. While footballer Marcus Rashford has brought the problem into the public eye, schools and charities have been working behind the scenes to address it, ensuring food gets to the children who need it.
John Scurr Primary School in Tower Hamlets and the Hammersmith Academy in Hammersmith and Fulham are just two of the 60 London schools currently teaming up with the Felix Project, which aims to tackle hunger across the city through initiatives such as organising food stalls at schools.
Satnam Sokhal, achievement advocate at John Scurr Primary School, which is in one of the most deprived boroughs in the city, says: “We have a lot of families living in overcrowded conditions in small council flats, a lot of families are on benefits and many of the children have special needs. These are some of the challenges that we face.”
“We identify families who can’t go out to the shops and have specially made food bags – we use some of the Felix Project food and also the food given to us by Fareshare, another food distributor. We top up some of that food,” he explains. The food is then delivered to the families.
The school has also partnered up with Manorfield Primary School. Sokhal explains how its PE hall was transformed into a ‘cash and carry.’ “They had so much food in the summer term last year, they contacted a lot of the other schools in Tower Hamlets asking them to come and get food. Deliveries were also made to our school,” he says.
Julie McKenna, who works in administration at the Hammersmith Academy, has seen the number of parents participating in the food distribution scheme increase during the pandemic as a result of job insecurity.
At first, the academy provided support boxes to families who needed assistance during term times. Now, the Felix Project, which has been working with the academy since March 2020, delivers food to the school three times a week, providing families with items such as fresh food, staples, treats, and snacks. Staff at the school sort and distribute the food, often giving up their holidays to help out.
McKenna states: “Most of the students are home learning, which means we do not see or communicate in the same way as in normal times when everyone is at school. This brings its own challenges in establishing the needs of our students and their families.”
“The important thing is staying in touch with families. Each family will have their own set of circumstances unique to them, and personal circumstances could change at any time. People are not necessarily going to come forward and ask schools for help, so it’s a matter of finding out how, as schools, we can support them.”