Last week I took a trip out to Essex with Marlon Nelson to visit a club set up by a church in Thurrock that gives a cooked meal to children eligible for free school meals during the holidays.
School holidays are a time when these children often miss out on their one hot meal of the day. The group is one of many Lunch clubs that are being run by churches all over the country. You can find out more on their website.
I went to see it as it was something that it is easy to imagine being very effective here in London as the proportion of primary school aged children claiming free school meals in London 7% above the national average at 22% with inner London boroughs coming in at 33%. I thought I would go and see one in operation to get a feel for how they function and how much work is involved in their set up and running.
Thurrock Lunch Club, which is held in a local school’s dining room, has the children there for about an hour and half with a few craft activities available as the children arrive at about 11.30. I mainly used the pre-lunch time to make a Playdough spider, it was going really rather well before being squashed by a child when my back was turned! Food was then served at about quarter past twelve with nine children (they had averaged higher through the week) sitting down to eat with the leaders. We had stew with jacket potatoes and jelly with fruit salad for pudding and there was a wonderful sense of community around the tables as everyone tucked in. The children then helped clear up and left at about 1.15. They clearly appreciated the club and behaved really well throughout.
Being there also gave me a chance to spend some time in the kitchen chopping veg with one of the leaders and getting a feel for what the practicalities of running the club were. The first and obvious cost was the food production which was around £2.50 a head, you could do this for less but they felt that that was what they needed to spend to enable them to provide the children with a good meal. This was cooked in the school kitchens, which helped them overcome some of the red tape associated with preparing food for public consumption, on the morning of the club by one of the leaders who had a food hygiene certificate. Four leaders staffed it but the recruitment and retention of these was very difficult, especially for the summer run when they covered four of the six weeks. One of the leaders was a mum of some of the children who came to the club and joined the team despite not being part of the church.
The club had also found the school to be incredibly welcoming with the hall and kitchen provided for free and letter being sent out each term to all those claiming free school meals.
Overall Lunch is one of those things that when you hear about it you just think ‘what a good idea’ and nothing I saw on my visit changed my mind about that. It is a fantastic way for a church to serve those in need in the local community. It also creates an opportunity to meet children and families that you wouldn’t normally meet.