Coronavirus: Schools to provide weekly boxes of groceries for disadvantaged pupils

Government confirms funding for schools meals programme for 250,000 children

Pupils at Our Lady of Lourdes primary school in  Goldenbridge, Inchicore, Dublin, who benefit from the State-funded school meals programme. Photograph: Tom Honan

Pupils at Our Lady of Lourdes primary school in Goldenbridge, Inchicore, Dublin, who benefit from the State-funded school meals programme. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Schools which provide free meals for students are being encouraged to provide weekly boxes of groceries for families while the schools are closed.

The Government has confirmed that funding is being continued for the school meals programme which benefits about 250,000 pupils in disadvantaged areas.

It says the move will help ensure nutritious food gets to many thousands of disadvantaged young people who need it most.

Teachers and principals have expressed concern over the fact many children who rely on these meals have been unable to get them due to school closures.

However, Government departments have produced updated guidelines for the 1,580 schools and organisations in the programme to help source and supply meals during the extended closures.

It says schools will be allowed to maintain the service during the Easter holidays and are asked to consider providing weekly boxes of non-perishable, nutritious goods.

Tusla’s education support service is to ask staff working in school community liaison and school completion programmes to liaise with principals to ensure children and families in need of the meals are identified and supported.

Schools have also been advised that if their current meals provider is unavailable to continue the service they can look at other options, such as a local charity in the community providing food or meals or sourcing supplies from an alternative provider or retailer.

Freshtoday, one of Ireland’s main school meal providers, said it will deliver a weekly provision of groceries to schools for each child availing of school meals programme.

Ray Nangle, Freshtoday chief executive, said the scheme has been a vital service in disadvantaged or Deis schools.

“With current closures, families are facing extraordinary challenges. We have had calls from schools across the country desperately seeking food for students in dire need,” he said.

“We will be working tirelessly to ensure that a weeks’ supply of goods will be delivered to Deis schools for distribution. This will alleviate not only financial difficulties, but also help in restricting shopping times and community exposure.”

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said it welcome this practical solution which will help to provide some much-needed certainty for our most vulnerable pupils.

“ Our members are deeply concerned about the plight of these pupils and their families at this time,” said INTO general secretary, John Boyle.

Under the scheme, a budget of €2.90 per child’s meal is provided by the department and the school must source a provider compliant with the 2017 nutrition standards for school meals.

In the absence of official guidelines, some schools had devised their own supports for vulnerable families over recent weeks.