Bath-based charity St John’s Foundation has launched a scheme to ensure children across the local area who are not entitled to free school meals are able to receive them.
St John’s Foundation, the South West’s oldest charity, will be working with seven schools in the region that have identified over 700 pupils who will benefit from having hot school meals every day until the end of July 2024.
According to official figures published by B&NES Council, as many as 1 in 5 children within the district currently live in “absolute” poverty.
St John’s Foundation is working with seven primary schools where the number of children experiencing food inequality is at “unacceptably high” levels.
Despite the financial difficulties being faced by families whose children attend these seven schools, some are ineligible for government-funded free school meals.
David Hobdey, Chief Executive, from St John’s Foundation, said: “The cost of living crisis is beginning to take its toll on families throughout the city region, with many parents struggling to cover the cost of a basic breakfast and lunch for their children.
“What we are seeing locally is reflected nationally, too. In England and Wales, the figure for those known to be living in poverty but are not registered for free school meals is 1.6 million.
“These numbers are worrying to say the least, which is why St John’s Foundation has resolved to tackle the problem head on.
“But they also hide a bigger issue that is often overlooked – the long-term impact of food poverty.
“Every young person has the potential to do well at school, but we know that a lack of nutritious food inhibits brain development. This in turn affects both their long-term health and life chances.”
“Plans are also underway to work with partners to ensure meals are available for children attending these schools over weekends and school holidays, to help parents cope with the rising cost of bills and to support the development of their children.
“Since the launch of our Foundation Fund in 2020, it has been working with partners and organisations to help eradicate the need for emergency food provision and address the inequalities in educational attainment across Bath and North East Somerset.”
“This funding support is another step towards making this a reality. It’s important to remember that behind every statistic is a hungry child in our community that requires our help.”
Head Teacher, Clare Greene, from St Michael’s Junior Church School, said: “Some of our parents were not sure if it was real and sent their children in with packed lunches just in case.
“There were some very happy children today and lots of them had seconds! I sat and ate with them as usual but there was just so much joy and lots of full stomachs – thank you St John’s.”
One parent commented: “I just wanted to say a huge thank you to St John’s. I’m starting a new job tomorrow and I’ve gone to pay for my daughter’s school meals to find out that St John’s is providing them for all the children at Roundhill Primary School who are not eligible for free school meals.
“This gesture alone has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders, and I am ever so grateful for all the hard work and generosity of St John’s.”