FOR SOME time it has been evident in Cambridge, as it has been elsewhere in the country, that many families on low incomes have faced holiday hunger outside school term time.
Cambridge City Council and partners (Cambridge Sustainable Food, Abbey People, Cambridge United FC, faith groups and others) have been providing a school holiday lunch programme for at least the past four years as part of the council’s strategy to tackle poverty.
In previous years these have mainly been lunch events and activities for families at venues such as community centres. This year, coronavirus restrictions have meant that model has been rethought so that families in need do not lose out. So Cambridge Sustainable Food (CSF) along with the council have been coordinating the delivery of cooked meals to families.
The council and food poverty partners also support a network of local food hubs, which have been set up during the pandemic. These provide free food for anyone who needs it, without referral.
There is at least one open most days except Sundays. Led by local charities, mutual aids, voluntary groups, and faith groups, these will be open as usual during half term for families to drop in to collect food.
Even before the pandemic, the council was in discussion with fellow Cambridge Food Poverty Alliance members to set up a central food hub to distribute and store surplus food across the city, and funding has been set aside for this in the council’s budget.
In the meantime, the council has repurposed Buchan Street Community Centre for this work whilst it liaises with CSF to find a permanent base. During the pandemic the council has been grateful for the many places and volunteers stepping up to offer temporary venues for meal preparation, including Cambridge Regional College, Arbury Road Baptist Church and Cambridge United.
In addition to all of this, many local food businesses have come forward to help with holiday food, meaning that hundreds more people can be supported. The Trussell Trust food banks are also still available, offering a warm welcome and emergency food to those with a referral.
However, with all this effort, and with all the generosity of local business, this local offer is not a replacement for a full free school meals programme. The city council is therefore in discussion with the county council to see what support they can offer to strengthen the current arrangements, so that no child entitled to free school meals faces holiday hunger.
Cllr Anna Smith, Executive Councillor for Communities, said: “I’m proud of the work that the city council and so many amazing organisations, individuals and businesses are doing to tackle hunger in our city. I want to thank every single person who is part of this work. But I know that we all want to see a world where none of this is necessary, and where child poverty is a thing of the past. And I know that none of us will stop until we’ve made that a reality.”
Details of the community hubs and food banks, and other ways to get support, are available at: https://cambridgesustainablefood.org/cfpa-covid-19
People considering volunteering and/or donating food can visit https://cambridgesustainablefood.org for details. Businesses looking to donate food can visit https://cambridgesustainablefood.org/business-surplus-food-donation