Teachers say they’re encountering more and more pupils coming to school hungry – prompting one academy trust to install community fridges to help feed youngsters and their parents.
The pilot scheme is being tried out at five primary schools in Suffolk and Essex which are part of the Reach2 Academy Trust.
If it proves to be a success, it could be rolled out to all 59 of its academies across the region.
Steve Lancashire, Chief Executive Officer of Reach2 Academy Trust, said during a recent visit to one of the trust’s schools, he was left “heartbroken” by one boy’s story.
“I was in one of our schools on Monday and I sat next to a little boy to have a breakfast club. He said to me ‘I’m hungry because I didn’t eat last night‘.
“I asked him why was that and he said ‘my mum didn’t have any food in and she didn’t have any money to buy any last night‘.
“Of course that’s heartbreaking and to hear that, as an educationalist, we want to do something about it.”
– Sir Steve Lancashire, Chief Executive, REAch2 Academy Trust
Unity Primary Academy in Colchester is one of the five schools trialling the community fridges.
(The community fridge at Unity Academy Primary in Colchester Credit: ITV News Anglia)
Its catering manager Chelsey Gardner says stories of hunger are becoming far too common – and no longer surprise her.
“We have children that we know come from certain households that struggle a little bit. We recognise that and we tend to give those children a little bit of extra food, a little bit of extra attention – send them home with a full belly.
“This is a vital scheme. With Universal Credit and the poverty rates, it’s needed even more than ever along with hunger clubs in the holidays.
“It used to surprise me but maybe not so much anymore. We’re seeing it more and more of the time. I’m used to it now.”
– Chelsey Gardner, Catering Manager, Unity Primary Academy, Colchester
The community fridges are stocked using leftover food from the school kitchens and aim to provide nutritious food for families who need some extra help. They include fruit and vegetables, rice, milk and eggs.
Schools hope to be as discreet as possible, encouraging children to talk to a teacher and keeping the fridges in areas that will not attract attention from their peers.
According to charity the Trussell Trust, the use of food banks in the East is continuing to rise.
Last year 156,000 food parcels were handed over in this region.
Essex received the most, with around 16,000 parcels given to children alone. In Norfolk, more than 8,000 of the 15,000 food parcels went to young people, and in Suffolk, 6,200 emergency supplies were handed out – with around 3,800 of them going to children.
Reach2 Academies are not the first schools in the region to feel the need to feed pupils and their families.
Last year, headteacher Debbie Whiting revealed she had set up a food bank at North Denes Primary in Great Yarmouth for families in poverty.