Community raises £3,000 to provide Cambs children with free meal vouchers
Children eligible for free school meals in Histon and Impington are receiving meal vouchers this half-term week campaigners say, after the community raised the funds required in less than 24 hours.
The move follows the government’s decision not to extend free school meals over the school holidays, despite a widely publicised campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.
Pippa Heylings, a Liberal Democrat councillor on South Cambridgeshire District Council, has helped lead the fundraising drive, and while she celebrated that it showed “again what a generous and compassionate community” there is in the area, she also cautioned against relying on private donations in future.
“Even though the community has rallied so well to raise the money needed by schools to make sure that no children will go hungry over the half-term, we do not think this should be an ongoing thing,” she said.
“We were very worried about setting a precedent but at the same time we were not ready to see vulnerable children pay the consequences of this deplorable situation.”
Cllr Heylings said the group behind the effort believes that in future, support should be provided by central government funding and that there should be a “rethink” in time for the Christmas holidays.
The voucher system that will be used this half-term will be similar to the scheme backed by the government over the summer holidays, providing five £3 meal vouchers redeemable at participating shops for the week for just over 200 pupils.
Cllr Heylings said the area’s headteachers “felt it was absolutely critical that the students receive this” and gave up time “during their well-deserved break” to put the system in place at short notice.
The £3,100 necessary was raised in less than 24 hours and was coordinated through the village Covid-19 response team and schools, using social media and with the help of the Friends of Histon and Impington Community charity.
Students eligible for free school meals at Impington Village College, Histon and Impington Infant School and Histon and Impington Junior School are benefiting from the scheme, Cllr Heylings said.
Cllr Heylings said it was important that the voucher scheme was in place in time for the start of half-term break. This led to herself and other councillors in the area effectively guaranteeing the funds before they were raised and confident that the community would pitch in.
Paul Edmondson, 45, lives in Impington and is part of the Facebook group that played a crucial role in producing the scheme.
He said he recognises that he is very fortunate to have continued to earn through the pandemic and said he admired others who had volunteered and offered support, and he was also looking for a way to give back. For him, it shows “the power of social media combined with community spirit”.
“The discussion remained fairly practical, about how do we help, not who do we blame,” he said. As the schools already provide the meals during term time, he said a school-run voucher system provides “the most efficient way” to make sure those who normally receive free school meals will continue to receive them.
Neil Davies, the part-time manager of Friends of Histon and Impington Community, praised Cllr Heylings for the idea, and said the charity was “delighted to help”.
He said: “We recognised the anxiety that families with children on free school meals were suffering and the initiative just took off. Within 24 hours over £3,100 had been raised to be able to fund the free school meal vouchers, which have already been distributed to the children’s parents so they can be immediately used this week.”