In the week that MPs debated Marcus Rashford’s petition to end child food poverty, we will be delivering 28,000 nutritious breakfasts to 44 schools in Tower Hamlets.
This is the first time we are delivering Breakfast Boxes in Tower Hamlets, and they will provide vital healthy breakfasts over the summer half-term to vulnerable children and young people, many of whom have been pushed by the pandemic into food poverty.
The Breakfast Boxes programme launched during the first lockdown in May 2020 and hit the headlines as a response to the Coronavirus pandemic. It continued through school closures and school holidays and by Tuesday 30 March 2021, we had delivered one million breakfasts, exposing the scale of food insecurity and the knock-on impact on children’s health.
As schools reopened the programme came to an end. But the need has not gone away. Many families are still suffering from the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, and research by School Food Matters revealed that one in four of the children identified by their schools as needing support are not eligible for free school meals.
Now donations from the public (The People Power Fund) amounting to £130,000 have allowed the programme to restart across multiple local authorities in London, including in Tower Hamlets. Here, the council provided matched funding in the region of £19,000 from its COVID Support Fund enabling them to double the impact of this provision and support over 5,250 local children.
Public donations came from many different sources, including two teenage girls, Bella McPherson (13 years old) and Eliza McPherson (12 years old) who started making wire rings during the first Lockdown. The rings were a success, but when they read about the Breakfast Box Programme in the Guardian, they donated their profits to the charity.
'We were delighted to help School Food Matters because it's a really important charity which helps lots of children. We felt it was very important, when starting our business during lockdown, to donate some of our profits to charity because we wanted to help others at a really difficult time for everyone,' says Eliza McPherson.
Donations also came from student Dilan Ganatra and team who fundraised from a 24-hour event.
Each Breakfast Box will contain brown bread, Weetabix, milk, baked beans, rice and a selection of fruit.
Tower Hamlets has one of the highest rates of child poverty, anywhere in England, with 35.6 per cent (16,123) pupils eligible for free school meals (many may also be living on the edge of eligibility) vs 21.1 per cent in London and 19.7 per cent in England.
The Founder and CEO of School Food Matters Stephanie Slater said:
'Our Breakfast Boxes programme has captured the hearts of the public who, like us, believe that every child should have access to the food they need to thrive. Thanks to their generous donations, we can now take this programme to Tower Hamlets and help families through the half term holidays.'
Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said:
'We’re delighted to have partnered with School Food Matters to feed families in Tower Hamlets - many of whom will have been hard hit financially as a result of COVID-19. It is a sad reality that these households, and many more, could be relying on this food for survival. No child should have to go hungry and worry about where their next meal is coming from. We call on the government to develop a long-term solution to holiday hunger, beyond the pandemic, that properly supports families still living in food poverty. It cannot be left to celebrities and charities to fill the gap.'
The Breakfast Boxes programme has demonstrated the income threshold for FSM eligibility is set too low, meaning that children are missing out. That is why School Food Matters supports the recommendations from the National Food Strategy, specifically to expand entitlement to free school meals.