THOUSANDS of children and families are being fed and entertained this summer through clubs and schemes provided by churches.
Many churches are forming partnerships with local councils’ summer-holiday schemes to support children who are eligible for free school meals and might go hungry during the summer holidays.
The national Christian children’s charity Transforming Lives for Good (TLG) is working with 76 churches to combat holiday hunger, through its offer of food parcels and lunch clubs.
TLG’s Make Lunch lead, Sam Craven, said: “The need for extra support across the pandemic has been particularly stark. Through our Box of Hope initiative we have seen well in excess of a million meals served to families through emergency food parcels which included well-being resources for the children. With restrictions loosening, for the first time, our Make Lunch clubs reopened this summer, and we are seeing many people coming through our partner churches’ doors.
“The scale of holiday hunger is huge, with over 1.5 million children receiving free school meals prior to the pandemic, and millions more children living in poverty. It poses an urgent question: what happens to the children during the 13 weeks of the school holidays? For too many, the food runs out.”
The Foundry Church, Widnes, has supported 137 children with food this summer, serving up to 2935 meals though food parcels, recipe kits, and a Make Lunch Club, which also offers young people craft and sports activities.
An associate pastor, Ste Greenow, said: “This summer holiday it’s been wonderful to be able to have families in and give them food, but also do sports and crafts and other activities.
“Holidays are really challenging, because everything costs money; so being able to offer free activities has been really important, as well as food. We are very aware of how tight money is for some families. We also run a food pantry, where everything is donated — food and hygiene items and cleaning items — and we open it for people to take what they need. At this time of year, we also have school uniform donations. We know of families with five or six children who find the uniform requirements really tough.”
The Rock Church, in Cheltenham, also runs Make Lunch holiday clubs. Its operations director, Andy Macauly, said: “This year has been especially important in the light of social isolation and economic hardship caused by Covid. We are delighted to work with Transforming Lives For Good, and partner with local organisations such as #Feedcheltenham and our local Tesco store.
“At the end of the sessions, we have been able to give take away bags of fresh fruit, and families have had the chance to take top-up groceries to help them through the week. It has been great to see the children enjoying the activities, making new friends, connecting with wider ongoing youth work activities at the Rock, and also knowing that the pressure on households’ having enough to eat has been eased a little.”
St Catharine’s, Gloucester, is working with Gloucestershire County Council to offer food parcels and picnics to families struggling for food during the holidays. The Vicar, the Revd Josephine Pestell, said: “As summer 2020 approached, we were aware through our partnership with our Church of England primary school that many local families were struggling for food; so we began to provide weekly food, a safe place to talk, and signposting to support services for these families.
“Some lovely friendships have developed, and, as a church, we have also had our eyes opened to some desperate situations faced by people in our parish.
“Each week, we have had 70-plus kids coming to the church enjoying fun activities alongside the food provision.
“Members of the church and the local community have also been bringing fresh fruit and veg from their allotments, and many people have also been stopping for tea and cake. In some ways, it feels a tiny thing we have been able to do, but God has a good track record in taking our humble offerings and doing so much more with it.”
In Liverpool, 21 churches are feeding 1000 children as part of the scheme Feast of Fun, run by Together Liverpool, a partnership between the diocese and the Church Urban Fund. Curry nights and barbecues are some of the activities offered for families. Dr Naomi Maynard, who is food insecurity lead executive at Together Liverpool, said: “It has been wonderful to see the creative ways churches are looking to tackle holiday hunger and connect with families in their communities this summer.
“For many churches, this will be the first in-person activities they have hosted in 18 months, often using their churchyards, local parks, and church halls to put on events in a safe way.”
In Wales, church schools have been opening to provide free food and activities, as part of the Welsh government’s school-based education programme, which includes activities such as football training, dance lessons, and craft activities. Children are given breakfast and lunch, and, at the end of the day, are sent home with a bag of food and recipes to try.
Cathedrals have also been offering activities for children. Gloucester Cathedral has welcomed more than 3000 in three weeks, to take part in its summer trail. The trail offers 19 activities to choose from, including hunting for medieval stonemasons’ marks in the nave, dressing up as a cathedral character in the Tribune Gallery, or sending a secret message through the mysterious Whispering Gallery.