School canteen Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Charities are working to provide dinners for children on free school meals while pupils are at home

School kitchens are being called on to provide dinners for children on free school meals after pupils are sent home due to the coronavirus crisis.

Charity Feeding Britain said it was working with schools to provide meals for parents to take home.

Others are planning to provide food packages to leave on the doorsteps of self-isolating families.

The prime minister said the government will help parents by providing vouchers to those who receive free school meals.

Schools in England will close on Friday except for looking after the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

It comes after Scotland and Wales said schools would close from the same day.

Almost 1.3 million children, about 15% of those in England’s state schools, receive free school meals because they come from low income families.

Official data showed the need was greatest in parts of London, the north and Midlands where more than one in four pupils were entitled to free meals.

Schools and community centre kitchens are being lined up to prepare meals for children who would normally get one for free during term time.

However, Andrew Forsey, of Feeding Britain, said its usual Easter holiday activities, involving crafts and games, would not go ahead.

The charity is already working with a “core group” of schools to use their canteens to produce the meals, whereas in normal holidays they would remain closed.

Its plans would see schools offer hot meals for parents to collect and take home. Others would offer “cold but nutritious meals” and in some cases “particularly vulnerable” families would have them delivered.

The charity operates in parts of Yorkshire, Merseyside, Cheshire, Coventry, Bristol, Cornwall, South Shields, Derbyshire and Leicester.

Mr Forsey said: “In a school holiday it’s normally a mix of food and activities for children, who have meals together but also some cooking and food-related activities, arts and crafts.”

“We’d also deliver food through community events, whereas under these plans we would have to work on the sole purpose of food.”

Angie Comerford, who works at Hebburn Helps, provides breakfast and lunches to school children during the holidays and said the charity would approach school closures like a “long Easter holiday”.

Image copyright Angie Comerford
Image caption Angie Comerford from Hebburn Helps is assisting families who are self-isolating

It provides hot meals and activities for children across South Tyneside, but as a result of high demand and many families self-isolating, they will only be providing packed lunches to Hebburn and Jarrow.

“We’ve got a couple of families who’ve had to self-isolate, but also kids who have got underlying health issues,” Ms Comerford said, adding volunteers were leaving food at doorsteps for them to collect.

In a normal six-week summer holiday, they would provide 1,800 packed lunches.

“To be honest I haven’t got a clue what it’ll be this time,” Ms Comerford said.

“We do have a couple of quid in the pot, but if anyone can pitch in by providing food or chuck us a couple a quid, that would be good.”

Vouchers

Pupils on free school meals at 25 Co-op Academy schools will be given a £20 voucher for each week of unplanned closure to spend at Co-op supermarkets, chief executive Steve Murrells said.

Food charity Fareshare said it was expecting to see a big demand for the services supporting children who, “as a result of no longer having access to free school meals, will be at much greater risk of hunger and malnutrition”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said provision was being made to “supply meals and vouchers” to children on free school meals.

“Where some schools are already doing this, I want to make it clear that we will reimburse the cost,” he said.

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