Church congregations rally to feed children and help families over the summer holidays
Volunteers have responded to the plight of under-priveliged kids in Scotland’s communities by setting up summer holiday feeding programmes.
Hundreds of pupils are being saved from hunger after being served lunch Monday to Friday by church congregations.
The Church of Scotland confirmed the feeding programmes are taking place in Ayrshire and the Lothians.
St Columba’s Church of Scotland in Ayr is feeding 153 children this summer after a local head teacher expressed fears that pupils would go hungry during the school holidays.
Martin Johnstone: government action needed to stop holiday hunger
Many children and families are reliant on free school meals during term time.
But our children need to eat during the holidays as well and it is great to see congregations the length and breadth of Scotland providing this vital support. It is what churches at our best do.
I chaired the Food Poverty Group which reported to the Scottish Government in June 2016. Its report called for the Scottish Government to top up child benefit and look at ways to provide healthy meals during summer months.
Holiday hunger is a growing problem in Scotland.
It is, therefore, particularly encouraging to see local churches – and others – stepping in to help.
At the same time, we need to go further. The fundamental problem is not lack of food, but lack of money.
Food poverty is overwhelmingly caused by low wages, a drop in real terms of the value of social security benefits and multiple failings in their delivery.
That’s why it is also so encouraging that the congregations which are carrying out this vital work are also calling for more systemic change.
The First Minister has recently committed the Scottish Government to tackle child poverty. Ending holiday hunger through, for example, the raising of child benefit as recommended in our report would demonstrate leadership and intent.
Rev Dr Martin Johnstone is the secretary of Church of Scotland’s Church & Society Council.
Dylan Harper, youth worker for St Columba’s, said the Lochside area of Ayr is among the 40 poorest areas of Scotland, even though the parish as a whole is one of the country’s wealthiest.
He said: “We had a conversation with a local head teacher about holiday hunger.
“And we learned that during the school term 95% of children at one primary school receive a free school breakfast and lunch. But during the summer that stops.
“So making sure those children get enough to eat presents a big financial challenge to their families over the summer.
“St Columba’s is one of the wealthiest congregations in the country, but the Lochside estate is one of the poorest areas in the country. So we decided to pull together a food programme and we are feeding 153 children this summer.
“As a church we made the commitment that we are going to serve this community and we will do whatever it takes.”
On the other side of the country, Penicuik North Kirk in Midlothian started the No kid goes hungry summer lunch project for children last year with a one-off grant from the NHS. The Kirk has continued the project this year using its own funds.
Dr Alan Naylor, an elder who helps run the project, said: “We are providing five lunches a week to 49 children referred by the council’s children and families unit.
“More than 400 children in Penicuik get free school meals. We can’t feed them all but we are targeting the most vulnerable children. It’s going well and we are excited to do it, although we think it should not be necessary.
“We have 27 volunteers on a rota and each week four volunteers go shopping for fresh food. After we have prepared the lunches, social workers come to collect lunches for their kids.
“What is exciting is that we’ve just been awarded a £13,500 grant so we can continue for the next three years.
“We are also going to use the grant to offer nutrition and cooking classes to families who need that support.”
The No kid goes hungry programme gets support from churches, schools and service groups through donations of cans and other non-perishable food items. Last year the church supplied needy families with around 4,500 meals.
Liberton Kirk in Edinburgh has taken a different approach to the same problem. The church café started a pay-it-forward scheme that allows customers to donate meals to others. And working with three local primary schools, the café then issued vouchers to provide free meals to pupils over the holidays.