Meath Women’s Refuge supported 122 children experiencing holiday hunger last Christmas

Meath Women’s Refuge and Support Services supported 122 children experiencing holiday hunger last Christmas through the Children’s Rights Alliance Food Provision Scheme

Today, the Children’s Rights Alliance is hosting a Drop-In Day at Buswells Hotel in Dublin, to showcase the work of community organisations from all over Ireland working on the ground to fight food poverty experienced during school holidays, known as ‘holiday hunger’.

The groups in attendance are recipients of the Children’s Rights Alliance Food Provision Scheme run over the 2023 Christmas period. The scheme funded 35 projects providing food and support to over 7,900 children. Thousands of families across the country experience food poverty and the stress of this intensifies when schools close for holiday periods as they can no longer rely on the Hot School Meals programme which guarantees children at least one hot meal every day.

Speaking ahead of the event, Tanya Ward, CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said:

“In a country as wealthy as ours, no child should go hungry in 2024. Yet thousands of parents are facing a daily uphill battle in getting their children the vital nutrition they need. Imagine being haunted all day by the stress of not knowing how you will get a hot meal together for your child at dinner time. Imagine going without heating in the winter or explaining to your child that they can’t have their friend over for a playdate because you can’t afford afternoon snacks. A simple meal is something children should take for granted, but unfortunately, these situations are daily realities for many. Today, we are celebrating the dedicated work of our members and food provision grantees, who provide support to children and families going hungry across the country. Our members work tirelessly all year-round but specifically during the holidays, making sure it is a time of joy and not dread.”

In 2023, 13 Meath schools availed of the Hot School Meals Programme, benefitting 3,384 students. In the April 2024 expansion, 43 schools will avail benefitting 7,906 students.

“Following the expansion in Budget 2024, over 440,000 students across the country will have access to the Hot School Meals Scheme. For many, this is a welcome lifeline and guarantee of their only hot meal each day. Once school doors shut for Easter, Summer, Christmas or even a short Midterm break, these families are left in the lurch. We have heard many stories from parents going without food themselves to feed their children. The organisations here today do everything in their power to reach those in need of immediate support and make sure there is food on the table. However, for the second year in a row this scheme has been completely oversubscribed. The 7,800 children that benefited from our food provision scheme over Christmas make up less than 2% of children availing of Hot School Meals. The very fact that almost 8,000 children need this assistance should be reason enough for Government to seek a more sustained, long-term solutions to support these families when school doors close for holidays.

Government have made incredible strides in the fight against food poverty in recent budgets. In the duration of its roll-out, the Hot School Meals Programme has not only reduced food poverty in the literal sense, but over 70% teachers have noted improved academic performance, attendance and mental health, and it is not hard to understand why. With access to food, children arrive in class ready to learn. They can focus on their schoolwork instead of struggling to stay awake because they are not getting much needed nutrition. We now have the chance to build on that momentum and ensure year-round access to meals through funding and developing the roll-out of a Holiday Hunger pilot initiative for the expansion of school meals during school holidays. Systemic change and sustained support, as well as leveraging existing community infrastructure and relationships between schools and summer camps, are necessary if we are to truly address the issue.”

The Children’s Rights Alliance Food Provision Scheme received applications totalling over €350,000, over six times its capacity, resulting in an urgent callout for additional funding in the run up to Christmas. Recipients of the grant support children and families experiencing homelessness, addiction issues, and domestic violence and included organisations Meath Women’s Refuge and Support Services who supported 122 children over the Christmas holidays.

A Children’s Support Worker at, Meath Women’s Refuge and Support Services, highlights the difference the support made to the families accessing their service:

“Compared to other years working here, women were more open about the difficulties they were facing coming into the Christmas period and while we always make sure they know that they can access certain services for support, it can leave you feeling concerned and helpless with regards to not being able to support in a practical way. The food vouchers empowered mothers to provide for their children and tick one bill of their list. To be able to support 122 children and 60 families in some small way, is a really lovely thing. Women were so appreciative and to alleviate some stress for them is just an amazing thing to do.”