Stevenage council and restaurant offering help to those affected by free school meals vote
- Credit: Archant
In response to the government’s controversial decision to discontinue free school meals for children into the school holidays, Stevenage Borough Council has set up a Lunch Box club, while a restaurant in the town has also offered to help.
Free school meals are offered to children who are living in low income households – it is often a lifeline for them. In the summer, footballer Marcus Rashford campaigned for children to continue to access this vital service throughout the summer holidays.
The government backed the plans at the time – but have now voted down the Labour motion to continue it during October half term next week and the Christmas holidays.
Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland abstained, while Hitchin and Harpenden’s Bim Afolami and North East Herts MP Sir Oliver Heald both voted against the motion.
READ MORE: Hitchin and Harpenden MP responds to ‘moral criticism’ over his free school meals voteSince the vote many have taken to social media to express their support for those affected, and Marcus Rashford has been sharing them on his Twitter feed.
Stevenage restaurant, el bar de tapas, in Middle Row, is one of many across the UK which has offered its services.
Last week, the Comet reported on how the restaurant had suffered a break in, with cash and iPads stolen – however that has not stopped owners stepping up to help following the vote on Wednesday.
They took to Facebook and said: “We work in an industry that is being decimated by this virus, but cannot use that as an excuse not to help. We have an amazing fitted kitchen with a really talented team operating it.
“Parents of Stevenage, if your child or children rely on a free school meal, then we will provide a cooked meal, drink, fruit and of course some churros.
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“It pains us to say it but we do not have the finances to help every child, but will do whatever we can in the current climate.
“We will have hot lunches ready for collection between 11am and 12pm on Monday through to Friday.”
Those who would like to access the children’s meals from el bar de tapas should send the restaurant a message to their Facebook page with the number of children that require a meal.
Please do not arrive unless you have had a response for the team.
The restaurant added: “Please remember that there are families out there that really do need help and support at this time, we are putting our faith in you to make the right decision.”
Stevenage Borough Council has also sprung into action, with council leader Sharon Taylor calling the government’s decision “despicable”.
She also took to social media and said: “Following the despicable action of Tory MPs in the House of Commons to vote down the extension of free school meals provision for half term and Christmas holidays, I want to say a huge thank you to our community team at the council who have pulled out all the stops to provide an alternative.”
The team or will be at the following locations from 3pm to 4pm: Monday – St Nicholas Play Centre and Bandley Hill Play Centre, Tuesday – Bedwell Community Centre, Wednesday – Pin Green Play Centre, Thursday – Outside Symonds Green Community Centre and Friday – at the back of Chells Manor Community Centre.
Distribution of food from all play centres will take place via the main gate to avoid the need for members of the public to enter the building.
Alongside this, the play team will also be handing out free activity packs – for Stevenage children aged between 5 to 14 years – from 1pm to 2.30pm at the following locations: Monday – St Nicholas Park, and the Donkey Park (Bandley Hill, Tuesday – Fairlands Bandstand and Town Centre Gardens, Wednesday – Hampson Park and Ridlins Park, Thursday – Scarborough Avenue Park and Shephalbury Park and Friday – KGV Playing Field Park and Fairlands Park play areas, near the boat house.
Councillor Richard Henry, portfolio holder for children and young people, said: “This year has been particularly difficult for everyone, and we know that these free meals could be the difference between some children being able to eat instead of going hungry.
“If any families are struggling, we urge them to come along and collect a free meal or get in touch with the team and they will arrange delivery.”
Any families in need of the service but unable to visit can call Stevenage Helps on 01438 242452 Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm during half term. Delivery of the boxes will then be arranged.
This service has also been extended to local schools who can refer families to Stevenage Helps by emailing email@example.com.