Free school meals delivered to 20,000 children in Herts over Christmas

Free school meals in Hertfordshire. Picture: Michael Penty

Free school meals in Hertfordshire were provided in the form of a voucher to more than 20,000 children over the Christmas break. - Credit: Michael Penty

Following a government U-turn and national debate, more than 20,000 children in Hertfordshire were given free school meals over the Christmas break. 

Herts County Council delivered meals to those entitled to them over Christmas via supermarket vouchers.

The scheme, which is funded by the government’s COVID-19 Winter Grant Scheme, provided eligible families with a £30 digital supermarket voucher, per eligible child, to cover the two week Christmas holiday period.

Terry Douris, executive member for education, said: “We’re delighted that so many families engaged with the scheme and made use of the supermarket vouchers over the festive season, we hope it took some pressure off parents and carers at this difficult time.

“We still want to ensure that every child who was entitled to a free school meal over the Christmas holidays can access that support, and so I’d encourage those remaining families who have yet to download their vouchers, to please do so before the deadline. There is help on hand if you’re not familiar with the online process or need the information in an alternative format.”

In addition to this support, the council encouraged families and individuals who were struggling to pay for food and other essential household bills to contact HertsHelp.

Plans are now under way to roll out the voucher scheme, or similar, again during February half-term. Entitled families will be contacted about this directly by their schools and colleges in the coming weeks.

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HCC has also been developing a holiday activity and food programme for children in partnership with Herts Sports Partnership and Hertfordshire Community Foundation which will ensure children across the county have access to activities and healthy food across the Easter, summer and winter holidays.

The issue of school meals continued to make headlines into the new year, as term time lunches were delivered in the form of food parcels. 

Families locally and nationally took to social media to show what they had received in their parcel, with some deeming them "disgusting" and "not good enough". This resulted in many schools reverting back to the voucher scheme during term time - seen in last year's lockdown.

While 85 per cent of families have downloaded their Christmas vouchers, a smaller number have yet to validate theirs. The last day to download vouchers is February 11.

More information about how to download vouchers and contact the council for more support is available at www.hertfordshire.gov.uk/freeschoolmeals.

You can also contact your school or college directly and they will help you to download or print your vouchers.

If you are worried about putting food on the table or paying the bills, HertsHelp can be contacted on 0300 123 4044 or info@hertshelp.net.

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