A delivery of food arrives at a doorstep. Inside the hamper are bags of pasta, tins of tuna, tomatoes and baked beans. There are also blocks of cheese, yoghurts, milk and cereal. It’s a basic shopping list, but for the children and their families receiving this box it’s a lifeline, meaning they are able to feed themselves for the next few days.
“We’ve had calls from people in tears”, Pam Knox, chief financial officer from the Waterton Academy Trust, who has been delivering the food bundles. “If they’ve not been able to get out, or are pregnant, they’ve emailed and they are so, so grateful.”
The closing of schools on 21 March had a knock-on effect for some children, as, at the very baseline of support from the education system, they have a few meals a day provided for them. While some schools are still open for key workers’ children and vulnerable children, there are families in every city, town and village who will be struggling now more than ever.
“We’ve got some quite high levels of deprivation in some of our communities,” says Knox. “There are some sad stories out there. So in the early days of the pandemic, we talked about how best we could support our families.”
The trust – which oversees 13 schools in West and South Yorkshire – partnered with ISS Education, a company that provides facilities management services and acts as caterers for 400 schools across the UK. The problem they faced was how to get the food out to the 550 at-risk children and their families while still observing the lockdown.
Right from the start, both companies were adamant that they didn’t want to resort to food vouchers. Knox says: “I personally didn’t want to do that because I didn’t feel that the food would necessarily get to the children involved. For me, it would have been the last resort.”
Working alongside Linda Cregan, food services director for ISS, they trialled a packed lunch scheme for the first two weeks, where the kids would walk to school to pick up a sandwich and a yoghurt. “What that meant was that some of the children had to come to school to pick those up,” says Knox. “It simply wasn’t working – we had surplus food. They didn’t feel comfortable coming to school to pick something up every day. They really didn’t see the benefit of it.”
When the prime minister announced the lockdown, he urged the public to use food delivery services. Orders for online grocery delivery across the UK jumped up. Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s sites all crashed with the strain of business, while Ocado’s CEO noted that demand spiked to 10 times the normal level. Knox and Cregan realised that home delivery might be the answer to their problem: they too could deliver a hamper of food to those who needed it the most.
“We designed the hampers to give some store cupboard staples like pasta and bread, that meals like lunch or dinner could be made from,” said Cregan. “Then we made sure that there were fruit and vegetables in there.
Similar to other pricier food boxes available to buy on the market, they also had the idea of including ingredient lists and recipe cards. Cregan says: “It was to give an idea of what you could do with those ingredients and to encourage children to cook with their families. It’s giving them a creative way to do that by providing the recipes that went alongside the food.”
It worked, presumably as it gave families stuck at home an activity to all take part in together. “We have had children on Twitter showing us what they’d been cooking with their recipe books,” says Cregan.
The free school meal allowance has been increased because of the lockdown, giving £15 for the weekly box, of which the team are currently delivering 550 a week. However, Knox notes that even with this support, there are people who fall between the cracks: “Some people aren’t on the free school meals register, but need to be. If we have spare hampers, we deliver those ourselves to people who the current crisis has left in difficulty.”
Cregan adds that it takes all parts of the chain to make things happen. “It’s been lovely to see the focus on making sure vulnerable children get everything that they need, and having so many people making that happen has been a great thing.”
This advertiser content was paid for by the UK government. All in, all together is a government-backed initiative tasked with informing the UK about the Covid-19 pandemic.