#StandUpForEarlyYears: Nurseries 'do their bit' and join Marcus Rashford campaign against holiday hunger

Catherine Gaunt
Thursday, October 29, 2020

Nurseries and pre-schools have been providing lunch parcels to children and delivering meals to foodbanks during half term, as public pressure mounts on the Government over its decision not to extend free school meals during the holidays.

Bebe Laudan, head chef at Fennies Nurseries in Epsom, preparing meals to be distributed by Epsom & Ewell foodbank, which has experienced a 245 per cent rise in demand for its services since the start of the year
Bebe Laudan, head chef at Fennies Nurseries in Epsom, preparing meals to be distributed by Epsom & Ewell foodbank, which has experienced a 245 per cent rise in demand for its services since the start of the year

Nursery World has spoken to some of these early years providers about how they are supporting families around the country during the pandemic.

Fennies Nurseries, Surrey

Fennies Nurseries has been supplying the Epsom & Ewell foodbank with nutritious meals for children over the October half term and will continue its programme to extend to Christmas holidays. 

Bebe Laudan, head chef at the group’s Epsom nursery, has been preparing more than 20 nutritious meals daily, which according to the foodbank, ‘are the first to go’.

Hot meals, including vegetarian pasta or bolognese, and cottage pies, are cooled down, delivered in a cooler box and refrigerated at the foodbank where each package is labelled, with heating instructions and ingredients.

Fennies’ head of commercial, Dane Hardie, said, ‘Like so many organisations around the country, not least proactive councils and numerous businesses, we’re playing an increasing role in free school meals by supporting organisations such as the Epsom & Ewell foodbank, which does so much for our local community.’ 

The foodbank has given out nearly 110 tonnes of food so far in 2020, feeding more than 9,500 people, a 245 per cent increase on 2019.

‘During this period, we have also purchased veg and fruit so that we can ensure people get a fresh selection as many people are not getting out, have no support and are struggling,’ the foodbank said. ‘Brilliantly to add to it we have been able to provide meals that have been donated to us as an extra benefit. In this time of the free school meals issue this has been a real help.’

Kidzrus, Manchester

Kidzrus Nurseries, which operates five nurseries in Manchester, operates a Family Foodbank from its Salford setting, and has been stepping up its foodbank service during half term, delivering bags of essential food items to families’ doorsteps, following social distancing rules.

Parents makes requests for the foodbank through the nursery’s designated foodbank Facebook page.

During half term all of the nurseries are providing packed lunches - as of Wednesday up to 40 a day - predominately for funded children, but there is also demand from families who are self-isolating and unable to get to the shops.

Managing director Nicola Fleury told Nursery World, ‘The response has been extremely positive, as parents are struggling at home either financially, or due to the restrictions with Covid-19. Many parents have expressed a change in circumstances with delays waiting for universal credit payments to arrive, therefore they are in desperate need of help.

‘We have noticed a considerable increase in requests for the food parcels and we deliver anywhere in Salford, approximately within a five-mile radius, but recent requests have been from the wider community as well as nursery families.  

‘The packed lunches are available for collection only from any one of our Kidzrus Nurseries, as they each have the fresh items in their settings.’

Kidzrus has been supported by local businesses, including Morrisons store and Costa Coffee, both in Swinton, who have contributed to the nursery group’s foodbank.

Ms Fleury said that the nurseries are also planning to make Christmas hampers for many local families, as a result of their fundraising activities, including the proceeds from their recent Kidzrus Nursery Cookbook. 

In a message to thank Kidzrus, one parent said, ‘I never been as grateful in my whole life for a few bags of shopping. You have helped me massively and I will be forever truly grateful. I couldn’t help the tears at the door, I was so overwhelmed.

‘My children are so excited to tuck into the cakes and biscuits as these items have been void of my shopping since Covid started. Due to Covid and being a single parent and not being able to work my full hours has left me in a lot of debt and food on the table had to be limited. Myself and my children thank you from the bottom of our hearts.’

During lockdown the nursery group delivered 40 meals a week to families in Salford, and in June it launched a free hot food service in partnership with Morrisons in Swinton, delivering meals on request to funded children.

Walton Pre-School, Essex

Walton Pre-school in Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex has also been providing free bags of food for five healthy lunches for children during half term, inspired by Marcus Rashford ‘to do their bit to combat holiday hunger.’

Business development manager Jackie Pobjoy said, ‘We do not want any child to go hungry and know how challenging it can be to find the extra food and snacks that children need when they are not at school.

‘As a charity ourselves we cannot afford this, but morally we know we have to. Community Voluntary Services Tendring have provided some funding to get this off the ground, as well as support from Walton & District Foodbank.

‘The pre-school has reached out to the local supermarkets and awaits a response from them.’ 

Comments from parents have included, 'so grateful, you are so kind', 'it's hard to feed them all as they constantly are asking for food', and 'they seem to eat all day long , when they are at school I don’t need to worry'.

Walton Pre-schoo said it was also 'hugely grateful' to receive a half term emergency funding grant from Essex County Council, and for being thanked for actively carrying out tremendous work.

Laura Grant, the pre-school manager, said, 'We are very appreciative of the community support  especially when things are tough for everyone, it just shows that when we work together great things can happen. When we return after half term, we will be thinking about what support we will offer families when the schools close for the Christmas break.'

Rashford petition reaches 1 million signatures

Meanwhile, the petition started by Marcus Rashford calling on the Government to commit to funding the three recommendations in the National Food Strategy, has topped more than one million signatures - one of just five petitions on the parliament petitions website to do so.

More than a 1,000 businesses, local authorities and charities have registered on the www.kidsmealsmap.co.uk, which is designed to make it easy for families to see who is providing free meals to vulnerable children over the October half term. 

The map, built by communications agency PLMR, is a new national resource, and food organisations are being asked to visit the website and register details of what they are offering, so that vulnerable children and families can find out what is happening in their local area. The campaign said that the site has been visited more than 40,000 times since it launched on Saturday.   

The Food Foundation is also hoping that MPs use it as an opportunity to visit projects in their constituencies that are on the frontline in food provision to the most vulnerable families.

Local authorities

Many local authorities across in England have also put in extra measures to support families during half term.

They include Hackney, where families whose children are eligible for free school meals and need emergency support are able to contact a council helpline to access vouchers. The council said it was also supporting schools delivering their own crisis programmes.

Kingston Council said it has made arrangements to ensure that the most vulnerable families are able to access food vouchers during this half term and over the Christmas holiday period.

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