A charity providing meal boxes for children in Milton Keynes who are going hungry says demand has doubled during the pandemic.
The boxes are now being given out at seventy-six schools and children’s centres in Milton Keynes including Milton Keynes College Group. The scheme was started by Reverend Paul Oxley at St Mark’s Church and is known as St Mark’s Meals.
Each of the partners keeps a store of recipe boxes which can be given to any child or young person believed to be in food poverty. There are five varieties from which to choose (Curry, Tuna Pasta, Tacos, Spaghetti Bolognese and a “Kettle Only” box for those in emergency accommodation) containing all the ingredients needed to cook a hot, tasty dinner at home that evening for a family of four. All the options are vegetarian with the exception of the tuna variety, and the tacos and curry are also gluten free.
One in four children in the city are believed to be at risk of frequent hunger. 327 boxes were packed and delivered over the Christmas holidays; enough to provide a hot meal for at least 1,308 people. Reverend Oxley says, “Teachers tell us that lots of children arrive at school hungry, and they haven’t eaten anything since their free school meal the day before. It’s not just holiday hunger, children are going hungry every single night of the year, trying to sleep with empty tummies and then trying to learn the next day.”
Numerous academic studies into the impact of child hunger have come to similar conclusions. Children enduring food poverty are almost twice as likely to be homeless, four times as likely to have low birth weights and fifty percent more liable to experience a greater number of stressful events in their lives. A lack of nutrition leads to inability to concentrate and can even suppress brain development.
The charity has seen a rise in requests for help from education in recent months as Covid isolation has made it more difficult for families already struggling and it’s feared that the rising cost of living is likely to push even more families into poverty. The demand for their services has almost doubled during the pandemic, increasing the number of schools it partners with from 39 in October 2020 to 76 now.
The College is seeing the impact on their learners and are collaborating with St Marks to support their work. This includes being part of the MK Child Poverty Partnership, having the meal boxes on site to distribute to students and encouraging staff and students to donate money and food items to the charity.
Community Engagement Manager at Milton Keynes College Group, Rebecca Myrie, says, “One of our central principals as an organisation is Building Fairer Futures, and not having enough to eat must surely be one of the grossest inequalities any child can face. A tutor contacted me recently to say that one of his student’s hadn’t eaten for the past two days. We are very lucky to have local organisation’s such as St Marks who have devised this practical way to help hungry families in our community.”
Angie Row, Project Coordinator at St Marks Meals says, “Support from MK College has made a huge difference to us. It's not just the funds they have raised for us, but also their clear vision for a better and fairer Milton Keynes which has helped to raise awareness about child poverty locally. As the need continues to rise, having like-minded organisations cheering us on helps us to work hard to ensure that no child goes to bed hungry".
Find out more at stmarksmk.com/meals