Children on free school meals in the 26 schools across Teesside and North Yorkshire run by Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust will continue to be provided with lunches throughout the Easter holidays.
The trust is going above and beyond its legal responsibility to supply meals during term-time by extending this to the time when children would normally be off school.
NPCAT chief executive officer Hugh Hegarty said the initiative is designed to give an extra helping hand at a uniquely challenging time for families.
“Holiday hunger has become an issue of increasing concern in recent years and we know families are finding budgeting especially difficult just now,” said Mr Hegarty.
“Hopefully this initiative will make things a little easier and ensure that none of our children miss out on a well-balanced meal each day.”
Some of NPCAT’s schools provide packed lunches, while others, including Corpus Christi Primary School, which covers the Pallister Park, Thorntree, Town Farm and Brambles Farm areas of Middlesbrough, have now switched to weekly hampers full of everyday staple foods and treats.
Corpus Christi headteacher Carolyn Baker said: “We’ve been providing daily packed lunches containing a pack of sandwiches, a piece of fruit, a tub of sliced carrot or cucumber and a bottle of water and parents have been coming and collecting from the kitchen each day.
“We’ve now moved on to asking parents of eligible children to tell us if they wanted a hamper and we called those who didn’t get in touch to make sure no family misses out.
“We gave out 48 hampers this week containing goods including potatoes and a packet of grated cheese to make baked potatoes, beans, tuna, bread, milk, oranges and apples and the parents were very positive about what they received.”
Christ the King Primary School in Thornaby currently receives a delivery of packed lunches containing sandwiches, a piece of fruit and a cake or something similar every other day for children on Free School Meals.
They are prepared by Stockton Catering, part of the local authority, and are stored in the school fridges and collected by parents. Staff drop off lunches for children being looked after by their grandmother, who is unable to come out.
Like all NPCAT schools, Christ the King remains open every day to look after the children of key workers.
“We can have as few as six or as many as 13 or 14 children,” said headteacher James Conwell. “They’re skipping in happily as normal and are quite happy to see their friends.
“Not knowing how many children will come in each day makes planning difficult, but in the context of the difficulties the country is having, we can do this.”
The trust has also circulated details of how to apply for free school meals for parents whose work situation has changed in recent days.
Meanwhile, Mr Hegarty has paid tribute to his staff for the way they have risen to the challenge of the coronavirus crisis.
Their work includes speaking to every family by telephone at least once a week to touch base and chat about issues concerning their child’s education and welfare, with additional contact with the most vulnerable children.
Every school has also set up emergency telephone numbers for pupils or parents to call from 8am to 7.30pm.
“We are blessed that our teams are leading the way in their roles as key workers and their acceptance of the need to adapt during this national emergency,” he said.
“All our schools use Google Classroom, a fantastic online tool that enables teachers to continue setting work for them, and we are also distributing printed materials where needed.
“All our headteachers are tracking content, uptake and progress and we will continue to monitor this over the weeks ahead to ensure we are making a positive impact.
“Schools are also making increasingly creative use of social media and we’ve had some amazing content produced to send out positive and encouraging messages to all our pupils.”
Teesside charity CAUSE – which provides hampers to families at Christmas and other times – has given the trust a generous donation to give additional support to schools serving the most vulnerable members of the community.
NPCAT will roll out the government voucher scheme for Free School Meals when it begins on Monday April 20, after the Easter holidays.
The trust’s website – npcat.org.uk – has a special COVID-19 news feed to keep parents and other stakeholders informed.