In a city as prosperous as London, there are many people who cannot afford food for themselves, their families and their children. During the holiday period some children really do go hungry. The summer holidays are a financial and mental burden for the poorest families in our community. Many schools provide breakfast through charities such as Magic Breakfasts, and many children are entitled to free school meals (all children up to the end of year 2; from year 3 onwards, it depends on parent’s income and benefits). If your income cannot stretch to feed everyone, every day, for 6 weeks, what do you do? Hub Storyteller Ann Storr spoke to 2 local Holiday Hunger Helpers.
Before I spoke with Candice James, manager of Max Roach One O’Clock Club, and Mala Naiker, Brixton food Guru, I was familiar with the idea of ‘holiday hunger’ but the concept of ‘holiday boredom’ was a new one. Candice and Mala explained to me that parents may be out at work all day, leaving older children to look after little ones, because childcare is too expensive. Or kids are turfed out of the house all day so that parents can ration what little food there is. “And that’s where the mischief happens” said Candice. Mala went further “I was in a chicken shop and kids were taking sachets of ketchup – when I asked them why they explained that they mix the ketchup with water which fills them up”.
Max Roach Children’s Centre is in the Coldharbour Ward, which has high levels of deprivation: 80% of the families attending Max Roach receive Job Seeker’s Allowance or Income Support, and the remaining 20% work but are not materially better off. It’s a small children’s centre, says Candice, but it does represent the make-up of the community. Candice started providing meals as part of holiday provision after formal feedback from parents and informal conversations with parents and children. They wanted healthy, free meals. “We are providing a nutritious meal in the holidays which is important because the meals [children] have at home are of low nutritional value.” Meals are free to everyone because free access removes stigma and helps to create communities. “Everybody’s in the same boat”, working or not.
Candice provided a whole vegetarian week in February’s half term which is a huge achievement in the Coldharbour ward, where chicken is a daily staple. “The children ate [the vegetarian food] and actually enjoyed it. Part of them enjoying the meals that we create is that they are involved in the cooking process. We choose ‘kitchen fairies’ on the day … and they help to create the menus … and parents help too.” Involvement about types of meals and how to be creative with the surplus that they receive means that it’s an effort for and by the community.
Food surplus is delivered from organisations such as City Harvest and, of course, Mala. Families are encouraged to take food away, and welcome the opportunity to widen the diet that they can offer their children. The kids enjoy it, too – they like going home with a box of food that they have made at the centre, showing their parents that cooking doesn’t have to be hard or take a long time. Cooking after a long day at a low-income job (often manual/on your feet type work) or dealing with Universal Credit can be a task that’s easy to side-step, and that is understandable – we all know that a long, trying day can make us all want a cold glass of wine/beer and to reach for Deliveroo. Also, when it’s cold outside and cooking the food costs a lot on your pre-payment gas or electric, a £1.99 chicken meal starts making a lot of sense.
Redistributing surplus food helps low-income families, but, understandably, there is fear and stigma around it: “You educate people as to what you can do with this food” says Mala. “We’ve all been psychologically framed by marketing and we are brainwashed … Last week I had a lot of carrots from Borough Market and because of the weather they were all dry and it didn’t look as if they were edible. This lovely old man was so offended, he said ‘How dare you offer this to my family?’. So I broke it in half and ate it in front of him, so he knew it was safe”. Rightly, no-one wants to eat dangerous food simply because of their income, so Mala tries all the food she offers. “I saw his wife the next day and he’d drunk the carrot juice she’d made with it! He had no idea, but they were all happy!”.
Help is definitely needed in our community over the holidays and beyond:
Mala always needs
- to know about more surplus
- people who can fetch and carry surplus food and deliver it to individuals or community groups
- Email email@example.com and we will forward your email to her.
Candice is always looking for funding. She needs:
- support to evaluate her food project to strengthen future bids
- new volunteers for Food Ambassadors or general volunteers
- new partners and parents to strengthen their offering in the community
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information