With schools and colleges closed until at least February 8, except for key workers’ children, calls for the government to reintroduce its £15-per-child-per-week voucher scheme to cover the usual benefits-related free meals for children have hopefully been heard.
Parents Paul and Samantha Milewski, whose daughter Bonnie attends Lacewood Primary School in Bolton-upon-Dearne, told the Chronicle they estimated the food package she received last week to be worth less than £5, for a week of lunches.
It includes an over-ripe banana and apple, potatoes Samantha said had gone soft, and tins of baked beans and tuna, as well as an orange, bread, cheese and cucumber.
“It’s appalling really,” said Paul, 41, of Carr Head Lane.
“The school staff were apologising as they handed the hampers out.
“They had nothing to do with it other than the embarrassment of having to hand the hampers out.
“The food lasted about a day-and-a-half.
“It’s definitely not just this school, it’s happening everywhere.”
Samantha, 34, added: “People might say you should be grateful because it’s something - but what you do get isn’t enough for a week.
“The majority of people are out of work, and it won’t have been their fault, and they’ve become reliant on this £15 a week.
“It’s not for the parents, it’s for the kids.”
In June, a campaign led by England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford forced the government to extend the vouchers into the summer holidays.
Barnsley Council put up more than £100,000 to continue the scheme in the October half-term, and disadvantaged Barnsley families have been supported with £1m from the government’s winter grant scheme - backed by £300,000 from the authority’s own funds.
There are more than 7,700 children in Barnsley eligible for free school meals.
Lacewood headteacher Jeannette Stratton said the parcels the school had handed out had been put together by outside catering company, ISS.
The firm was working to government guidelines implemented last week.
According to the government website, schools can claim an additional £3.50 per week on top of current funding for each eligible child receiving school meals while at home.
Guidance states parcels should meet school food standards, while catering for varied dietary requirements and avoiding items that take up fridge and freezer space, and that require other ingredients.
Jeannette said: “We have a catering provider who’s working within government guidelines - you’ll find the same thing with every school across the country.
“At 8pm last Monday we were told we’d be shutting and had to do something to help the children.
“We had to follow the guidelines.
“It’s not what I would’ve put in it.
“There are things missing that really ought to be in there.
“It’s appalling to have bad fruit in there.
“But the school didn’t put them together.
“We did the voucher scheme before and never wanted to go down the hamper route.”
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said schools will be able to offer vouchers instead of parcels from next week, while prime minister Boris Johnson said images circulating on social media don’t reflect government guidance.
“As soon as the vouchers are up and running, we will be moving back to that - parents get better quality and can make their money go further,” added Jeannette.
A spokesperson for ISS said: “Since the recent announcement of the national lockdown, we worked quickly with schools, councils and supply chain to agree and provide a selection of fresh and ambient products to support children eligible for free school meals, despite challenges with supply and delivery, short timeframes and increased demand.
“We have since investigated and taken swift action to resolve, apologising to the parent via the school.”
Coun Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, added: “Following last Monday’s announcement, schools across Barnsley responded quickly to support children.
“This support will be reviewed and updated as further guidance is announced.
“Individual schools will determine whether issuing a voucher or provision of a food parcel is the most appropriate route in line with government guidance.”