Stevenage school confirms food hampers will be scrapped after national fiasco

free school meals food hamper

A food hamper from a school in Stevenage that one parent says is supposedly worth £30. - Credit: Supplied

A Stevenage secondary school has today confirmed that food hampers for children eligible for free school meals will be replaced by a voucher system.

After meeting with its catering provider today, Marriotts School has agreed to replace the food hamper system with a voucher scheme, starting from Monday, January 18.

The free school meals debate was thrown back into the limelight earlier this week, when the government promised to open an enquiry after pictures emerged online showing small food hampers that supposedly feed kids for 10 lunches and are worth £30.

One woman, who will not be named, described the food parcels given to a Marriotts' pupils on free school meals as "disgusting and vile."

A five lunch food hamper provided by the school's catering service - Cucina - includes pasta, noodles, bread mix, eggs, fruit, cheese, vegetables, soup mixes and more. It also has a recipe list included.

The woman said: "This food parcel is supposed to be £15 worth of food. This is about £3.50 and supposed to last a week.

"I think it’s absolutely disgusting. On the government website it states that parents should not have to add to their lunch meals. It is vile."

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In the wake of the national outcry and local parents getting in touch with us, we asked Marriotts' headteacher Beth Honnor if the school thought Cucina were providing enough food and a balanced diet with their hampers.

This afternoon, Ms Honnor explained that the school would be reverting to the Edenred voucher system, where parents are offered monetary vouchers to be used themselves in eligible supermarkets.

In a statement provided to the Comet, she said: "At Marriotts, we take the support of our students and their families very seriously. We know that during this challenging time, some families are facing particular financial hardship. 

"We want to do all that we can to help them. This includes ensuring that all students who are eligible to receive the high-quality free school meal to which they are entitled.

"At the start of the new lockdown Marriotts - like all schools - worked quickly with our catering provider to put in place free school meal provision for eligible students in line with government guidance. 

"The government stipulated that where possible, schools should provide packed lunches or food parcels for students. The school put out a survey to parents of eligible students and offered them the choice of either a daily packed lunch (sandwich, fruit, and muffin) or a food parcel with recipe suggestions (the contents of which were specified in the survey and were in line with government guidelines).

"I met this morning with our catering company to discuss feedback we have received about the quality of some of the food parcels provided.  

"Both the school and Cucina agree that the Edenred voucher system, that was previously in place, is a far better solution for families. 

"This service does not require students to collect food from school and provides families with choice around what to purchase.

"We understand that this voucher scheme will be reinstated from January 18 and we very much welcome this news. We understand there will be the ability to back date vouchers and this is something we are pursuing. 

"As always, we will continue to support our students and families at this difficult time for us all."

The eligible supermarkets for Edenred voucher recipients include:

  • Morrisons
  • Tesco
  • Iceland
  • Sainsbury’s
  • Asda
  • Waitrose
  • M&S food
  • McColl’s (including RS McColl’s and Martin’s)
  • Aldi

For more information on the Edenred voucher scheme, visit www.edenred.co.uk/reward-recipients/Free-School-Meal-Vouchers/.

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