A young carer who looked after his disabled mother and siblings throughout the pandemic is one of the thousands of children receiving free nutritious meals over the half-term from our appeal partner, the Felix project.
Standing in the hall of the Concorde youth centre in Hackney with his mother beaming at him excitedly, Devarne, an 18-year-old aspiring footballer, said the food being delivered by the organisation would help them get by.
As the eldest of three siblings, the youngest aged seven, he was given the responsibility of shopping and getting food for his family in the middle of the pandemic while his mother — who suffers from a brain tumour and a heart condition — stayed at home with the children.
“The food being delivered by Felix has really helped us, I’ve also been taking part in delivering food to other vulnerable family members through our youth centre, so I know how helpful these packages have been to families and their children.”
“They bring us healthy food with vegetables and all sorts of things really and when my little sister sees me come in with the boxes, she gets so excited and happy and asks what I’ve got. She’s here today too so I’m sure she’s looking forward to today’s delivery,” he added.
The Felix Project, which is on a mission to tackle rising food insecurity by ‘rescuing’ and delivering surplus food, has already served more than 13 million lockdown meals through the support of our Help the Hungry campaign.
Funds donated via our appeal have helped it quadruple capacity and deliver around 2 million meals a month.
This week Felix is working over the school break with more than 80 school holiday programmes and organisations including the Concorde Youth Centre, Hackney Marsh Adventure playground and Chefs in Schools to provide 25,000 free meals to children.
As Devarne talked, he nervously turned around as his mum left the room to check on his siblings and said: “The fact that growing up my mum did everything for me — I knew I needed to take responsibility and help my siblings especially when it came to food.”
The move by the Felix Project and its partners comes after the government rejected calls to extend a “life-saver” voucher scheme for the UK’s 1.3 million free school meal recipients.
Meanwhile a petition set up by England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford that calls for government action to end child hunger is set to exceed a million signatures after a groundswell of support from the public.
And while voluntary organisations and small businesses have stepped up across the country to offer tens of thousands of free meals every day of half term, families and youth workers say they are “gutted” by the government’s decision not to extend the vouchers into the October break.
Devarne’s mother, Emelia Jackson, 37, a former carer for the elderly, said: “I think the government refusing the voucher is disgusting because, for example, when they were giving out the vouchers before, it was really helpful for the children."
She added, "It's amazing what Felix are doing but they shouldn’t have to do it alone, that’s why the government is there to help us in time of need. The government is helping the wrong people, they are not helping those actually in need — what this newspaper and that footballer are doing is actually helping people who need help."
Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, told the Standard that the Government needed to reconsider and put in place a credible long-term plan. She said: “Children experiencing food poverty are in desperate need of a long term solution. The government needs to be urgently considering the recommendations in their National Food Strategy and taking action to implement them.”