The Least We Can Do – getting Free School Meals to the children

RECALL NOTICE - 

Due to the fast-moving nature of all plans and protocols at this moment what I wrote yesterday is now out-of-date and doe snot reflect all plans for the coming weeks. Read what follows with caution as plans from 13th April onward are NOT the same as described here.

The first (and possibly only) food 'hampers' / parcels are planned for the week beginning Monday 6th April, arriving on doorsteps by the Tuesday or Wednesday.

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There are so many incredible things going on in response to the Covid-1 9 crisis. I am in awe of the planning and preparation that has taken place and the speed with which they are being put into full-speed action.

Schools have closed. School provision for ‘key workers’ has opened up. Easter holiday provision was detailed, planned, offered and taken up. Home schooling ideas were formed and shared. Communications have been enhanced. Big names in music, film, TV, sport and other areas of culture and literature have put together podcasts and other online resources. Subscription services have gone free-of-charge. Working from home has established. Social distancing has gone from being an unknown phrase to being the normal behaviour. Queuing, something the British feel skilled and experienced at, has become expert level. Praise and thanks, in public and out loud, is the norm. Support for every conceivable vulnerable group has been promoted and given.

22% of the national school population is eligible for Free School Meals. The Government decided to close schools. In doing so they have separated those children from that daily free lunch. At our school it is only 26 children – a little over 5% - but that meal may be essential in ensuring a healthy diet and avoiding family household poverty.

The simple answer would be to open up at lunchtime and have those children attend for lunch – but this conflicts with all the guidance about staying home and staying safe. It would inevitably increase the number of contacts for those children, other children in school, staff at work and then families back at home. It cannot be done safely. And so another system is needed.

Within two weeks of announcing school closures the Government announced the launch of a school meal voucher system, a £3.00 a day supermarket voucher scheme, to be issued weekly.

Except it’s not quite as simple as that.

We still want to uphold national school food standards, we still want cost efficiency, we still want to promote a healthy range in the diet offered, and we want to ensure that the money goes on the intended outcomes. Going straight to a universal voucher scheme runs too many risks of not doing that.

So before the voucher is a middle option; a weekly food parcel or ‘hamper’. The organisation of this on a local and national scale is extraordinary.

There are around 4,600 children eligible for FSM in Sheffield. The plan is to prepare a weekly food hamper for each and every one of them and then to have them swiftly and freshly delivered to their front doors. This is a system that did not exist two weeks ago. We may be hearing of local stores delivering locally – but maybe only twenty boxes at a time. This is the equivalent of over 200 such shops setting up the exact same standard scheme within two weeks, at no additional cost to schools or the recipient.

Schools are being urged to help the delivery process. The local authority’s catering contractor has no established experience or structure for delivering across the city. It has not got the capacity to transport so much to so many places in such a short period and at such low cost.

The plan has it that, where numbers are low, schools will receive the boxes on Tuesday or Wednesday and then deliver them themselves. The vast majority of each school’s pupils live locally to that school (in its catchment area) and so it is hoped that they will have the ability to distribute the parcels.

We could put the parcels outside the school front door, and ask parents to come to collect, but that we consider to be a risk we should avoid – too many people gathering in one place, too many journeys taking place.

For our school it is 26 parcels going to 24 addresses, all bar two in the Sheffield 10 postcode area. It looks like a route of around 15 miles in total to get round them all. At the moment this looks simplicity itself and I am sure we will have staff lining up to do the task.

There are two parts of the process that are staggering – what putting together those 4,600 boxes of canned, tinned, cartonned and fresh produce will look like, and how the chain is turned off when no longer needed.

So we expect, straight after what would have been the Easter Holidays (Tuesday 14th April), we will start receiving weekly food parcels and then passing them on the same day to 24 households. We hope it helps. No doubt we will get thanked for what we are doing, and yet it is a mere nothing in the scale of things.

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