Holiday periods can often be a struggle for low-income parents to provide additional meals for children, particularly those who normally receive free school meals (FSM).
It’s a situation particularly pertinent to the North East, which currently has the second highest rate of child poverty in the country.
A recent report from the Rowntree Foundation, a social campaign group, highlighted 46% of households with children are in receipt of Universal or Working Tax Credit.
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The situation has been exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis, in which benefits have increased by just 3.1%, while annual inflation is predicted to average 8%.
The Echo recently reported some parents in the city going without food to feed their children.
With the Government no longer operating the food vouchers scheme for FSM children introduced during the pandemic, Together for Children and Sunderland City Council have used Department for Education funding to introduce the Holiday Activity and Food programme to ensure all families can access a free daily holiday meal, while also providing an opportunity for children to socialise and take part in a range of fun activities.
Programme coordinator, Victoria Mosley, said: “We know school holidays can be a challenging time for many, particularly when it comes to additional meal times and being able to have days out, which is why all of our sessions are free to attend and include a nutritious hot meal and healthy snacks for each child.
"Our HAF programme provides young people with an opportunity to spend their school holidays socialising with friends, enjoying new and healthy foods, being active, and most importantly, having fun.”
Together for Children’s chief executive, Jill Colbert, added: “The school holidays can be a difficult time when it comes to additional mealtimes, which is why the food element of the programme is so important. Every child who attends a HAF session will be offered a healthy meal to enjoy, to help fuel them for a fun-filled day of activities.”
There are currently over 7,000 places available on the HAF programme and one of the organisations providing an opportunity for children to take part is Sunderland AFC’s official charity, the Foundation of Light (FOL).
Each participant also receives a set of ingredients and recipe card which they use in daily cooking classes.
FOL youth engagement manager Lucy Todhunter said: “We’ve seen more of an uptake of places, particularly in the current climate, and I think it’s really important children get a wider knowledge of how to cook for better value at home with their family and have fun whilst doing it.”
Dan Coyne, who leads the classes, added: “The club’s badge helps to engage the children and it’s an opportunity for them to try different foods. We’ve cooked things like fajitas, tikka masala curry, turkey burgers and freshly made pizzas.”
The initiative certainly seems to have had the desired effect on the children.
Leon, 12, said: “We made spicy wraps and the chilli was really hot. It’s good to try new foods.”
Kia, 11, added: “I’ve really enjoyed this week. We’ve done lots of sports and cooking we’ve not done before.”