Free school meals – or the lack of them – has been thrown into sharp focus this year. And whilst the Government has promised better support at Christmas, it’s an ongoing problem.
In one area, a voluntary initiative has been set up to help allieviate child hunger in Sussex. Nathalie Croxon from Gateway Hub tells us how they’re helping…
It’s an overcast Autumn morning and I’ve sat down working at my kitchen table, immersed in the post-school run peace.
I, like everyone this year, am doing what I can to make life work in this ‘new normal’. It so happens that as well as being a mum of two children, working full-time and tag-teaming the running of a busy household with a working-from-home husband, I also volunteer for a community-led organisation. The Gateway Hub tackles child hunger in Sussex and is a phoenix that rose out of COVID-19’s ashes in March.
After a particularly intense few weeks, culminating in a wet and busy half-term, I am now able to reflect on the past events. It’s been a few weeks since the Government voted down the motion for free school meals to be extended into half term, which led to an overwhelming outcry of public support for children facing the reality of holiday hunger.
Communities feeding the country’s kids
Images of Marcus Rashford, Manchester United’s star striker, dominated the media, as he and his mother assisted a Manchester based foodbank. “A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry, but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today,” he said.
Together, as communities across the UK, we rolled up our sleeves.
His words were sobering and further fuelled the ‘If you want a job doing properly…’ attitude, adopted promptly by the nation. Together, as communities across the UK, we rolled up our sleeves.
For days, social media platforms were dominated by the pages of restaurants, cafes, and shops across the country, all sharing their offerings; to supply children in their local areas with lunches during the autumn break. Many of these businesses are still in the grips of the COVID curse themselves.
The collective gesture was heartfelt and the unity it brought across the UK was inspiring. However, I could not help but feel somewhat disillusioned that it took a shocking announcement to open our country’s eyes to a problem that has been silently happening all along: the ongoing issue of childhood hunger.
It’s a far bigger problem than people realise
Almost 2,500 children in England have been admitted to hospital due to malnourishment this year: 11,500 children since 2015. 17.3% of children in the UK are known to be eligible for free school meals, an increase from 15.4% in 2019. This means thousands of children rely on their school lunch as their main (and sometimes only) meal of the day. How do they cope with a hungry tummy for the weeks they aren’t at school?
Almost 2,500 children in England have been admitted to hospital due to malnourishment this year
I learnt these statistics prior to the controversial motion was carried. As a mother of young children, I found these macabre and Dickensian facts really upsetting. By doing nothing, I felt I was contributing to our vulnerable, next generation being let down.
As the nation went into lockdown, community-led mutual aid became a means for those in need to receive assistance. Neighbours began to fetch essential shopping, collect prescriptions and offer moral support to those in isolation. Community spirit swept across the country, as the ‘British stiff upper lip’ attitude became the practical antidote to the pandemic.
Our local community was amazing
We kicked off in March. And in my own community, a small coastal town in Sussex known for its relatively high house prices and affluent pockets, the much-needed support grew. Donations of food, clothes, toys, and other essentials flooded in, and soon the Gateway Hub was formed, aiding those living in Shoreham by Sea, Southwick, and Fishersgate.
…we insist on a life-affirming ‘no criteria’ approach. We help anyone who asks for our support
I was just one of hundreds of people delivering shopping and collecting donations. By April, we had been provided with premises to receive, quarantine and store donated goods. As the food banks were at capacity, we began providing a wraparound service, ensuring that together we were meeting all needs in our area.
Our motto is ‘Neighbours helping Neighbours’, and we insist on a life-affirming ‘no criteria’ approach. We help anyone who asks for our support. It’s so hard to ask for help, if you never have before, so we make sure that there are no barriers, or hoops to jump through. We reassure people that we are all one community, and as people’s situations have improved, they have rushed to get involved and support others.
For many this has been their first taste of hardship
Food banks provide vital support in all communities. Assistance has been primarily focused on supporting families with children and those on the poverty line. The pandemic has seen a broader demographic requiring help due to the impact on earnings. This affects people living alone, the physically fragile, those with mental health concerns. But also families struggling to access free school meal vouchers, and now those needing support for the first time. The ‘line’ for those needing support has changed.
…there has always been a need to feed children during school holidays
It was during the summer holidays, when the Gateway Hub began its first Summer Lunch Club, that I learnt about the service that organisations across our country have always had to provide. Because there has always been a need to feed children during school holidays. This stark reality is why I, like so many others, want to act and become part of a solution in our communities.
Sadly, the work is not over, child hunger is an ongoing issue facing our country. So our community-led group is evolving once again. The Adur Community Gateway Hub is about to become a registered charity, and the services we plan to provide are growing.
And Christmas is coming…
This last half term, the Gateway Hub delivered lunches to nearly 200 children. As one school holiday ends, we are now planning for the next. As well as providing children with their lunch during the two-week festive break, our team of volunteers will also be delivering Christmas Day lunch to families and individuals.
Businesses and locals have joined us in our effort to collect everything we need. We want to make sure no child in our community will go hungry this Christmas.
Groups like this exist all over the country. If you are empowered to help in any way, please find your local organisation and support where you can.
If you want to find out more information or support the Adur Community Gateway Hub, you can visit: