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Source: City of Sunderland

Celebrating its 30th year, National School Meals Week aims to bring awareness to the importance of every child receiving a healthy meal, and not going hungry. This message is even more important this year due to the effects Coronavirus has had on many residents.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic many children have relied on the services provided by catering staff, who are being labelled as unsung heroes after stepping up to ensure that no child goes hungry across Sunderland.

Before the introduction of the Free School Meals voucher scheme, Sunderland services provided around 19,000 packed lunches across the city in the early stages of lockdown.

Following the launch of the national Free School Meal vouchers, the school meals service continued to provide packed lunches to children of key workers and vulnerable children who were attending schools during the months of April and May, at no cost to the families.

Since the pandemic began Sunderland schools have provided over 1000 food parcels to pupils entitled to free school meals but who have had to self-isolate. The service has also provided food parcels for schools that are not part of the LA school meals service , to ensure that no child goes hungry when self- isolating

When the schools reopened in September, school catering staff aimed to make their services adaptable to the individual needs of each school. This year’s meal uptake has risen above the national average, meaning even more children need the services provided.

How school meals are provided has changed drastically since the pandemic began. Some schools require packed lunches to be provided for children to eat in classrooms, other schools require a full hot meal service in the dining hall, and some require a combination. Catering services for the schools have accommodated all these needs and continue to provide healthy meals to pupils.

An upcoming electronic pre-order system, which is due to be launched in schools in the coming months, will help to encourage higher meal uptake by guaranteeing pupils their choice of meals, as well as reducing food waste and controlling costs.

Councillor Louise Farthing, Portfolio Holder for Healthy City at Sunderland City Council, said: “I am incredibly proud to congratulate all our school catering staff for their dedication and hard work over the last year.

“These key workers have gone out of their way to ensure that our most vulnerable children do not go hungry. Without their help a lot of families could be in difficult situations, and it is pleasing to see that their efforts are recognised and celebrated.”

MIL OSI United Kingdom