How churches are solving holiday hunger

Summer holidays are now in their second week and, as many parents will already be painfully aware, they are not always filled with freedom and laughter. 

Trussell Trust figures published last month highlight the increased use of foodbanks during July and August with children who would otherwise have access to free school meals often being forced to go hungry.

The charity's operations manager, Samantha Stapley, says it highlights how close to crisis so many are living.

One foodbank in Wales has already run out of basic supplies in the first week of summer and 4,412 more three-day food parcels are given out nationally in July and August than the previous two months.

Churches across the UK are realising the issue and stepping in to help.

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Heather Black, a development worker in Middlesborough, tells Christian Today of the 'unimaginable increase in referrals' to the foodbank in the summer holidays.

'You have got to feed the children and they need entertaining so it's a double whammy really.

'We just thought, "What kind of response should there be as churches?"'

The result is 'Feast of Fun' clubs which provide activities including arts, crafts sports, games and music based around themes as well as all serving food.

'Its growing a sense of community and family,' she tells Christian Today.

'As well as addressing very real physical needs we are building stronger community. I think that's the real qualitative care that the church can offer. It's creating a place with a feel of a family gathering.'

She speaks of one particular family who are asylum seekers and for whom the clubs had been a 'lifeline'.

'They have got no family so just being able to bring the children along has been a real help for her. She's on her own with the three children.'

But in other places the barrier of coming to a church or a community centre was too much and really desperate families weren't accessing the support.

Ellie Pool is the project co-ordinator for St Paul's in Addlestone, Surrey. She tells Christian Today how volunteers will distribute free packed lunches to families in need at different spots around the town.

'We didn't feel we were accessing the families that needed it the most.

'We felt a large percentage of those families that experienced the issues we were trying to address weren't coming,' she says. 

After doing some research they found one reason desperate families didn't comes was a church building was too intimidating a place to come. Others said it was too far.

'The overwhelming thing was that it is difficult for families who are experiencing the kind of difficulties we want to reach to overcome their own discomfort and shame to come.

'So we thought, "Let's take it to them."' 

Using surplus supermarket food, donations from the local Co-operative store and the nearby foodbank, volunteers compile the packed lunches and hand them out to families with children at designated sites around town.

'By going out to the centres to hand out packed lunches we feel that we will be helping the hard to reach families who really struggle,' she says. 

The project is just two days old and will run throughout August. But already hundreds of lunches have been given out on top of Friday lunch clubs where parents can come with their children and enjoy games, activities and a sit-down meal. 

To find out more about what churches are doing to tackle holiday hunger click here.

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