Northern Ireland

Barnardo's running summer scheme for free school meals pupils

Kids food scheme
Image caption The scheme in east Belfast includes a free breakfast

Pupils who rely on free school meals can face hunger in the holidays, says a leading children's charity.

Barnardo's runs a family holiday scheme in east Belfast which includes a free breakfast.

"During the long nine-week holiday families struggle with rising costs," said the charity's Nicola Hannigan.

The Trussell Trust, which operates a number of foodbanks in Northern Ireland, has also run similar schemes this summer in Lisburn and Londonderry.

The summer scheme run by Barnardo's is held at Tullycarnet Primary School.

It is aimed at children from the area who receive free school meals, and before the day's activity a free breakfast is provided.

Image caption Barnardo's Nichola Hannigan said families struggle with rising costs during the holidays

The local Co-Op supermarket and Dundonald foodbank donate the food, which includes cereal, toast, fresh fruit and juice.

Parents also attend the scheme with their children.

Mum Claire Stevenson - who brings her three sons - said many found the summer break tough.

"One of the reasons people get free school meals is simply because they can't afford them," she said.

"They've got used to having this nice hot meal prepared for their children and now they have to prepare that for them at home."

"Some people just don't have the means."

"We are an area of serious under-privilege here and it's frightening to think that some children are hungry."

Image caption Claire Stevenson brings her three sons to the scheme

Barnardo's run the breakfast club three days a week at the scheme, and the demand has been high, according to Nicola Hannigan.

"We've had well up into the 90s, with a lot of families with children under the age of five," she said.

"Families have said they appreciate that they can get up and don't have to worry about that one meal a day."

"It is the most important meal of the day, so we thought it would be a good way to support them."

Families wash up their own dishes after breakfast, and parents can then stay with their children for the rest of the day's activities.

That also brings important benefits, according to Debbie McCord who attends with her daughter and niece.

"It gets mummies out and children mixing with other children," she said.

"Mummies that maybe don't know anybody can come down and interact with everybody else, so it's great for them and the children."

Image caption Debbie McCord said the scheme also helps mums and children mix with others during the holidays

Earlier this year, some teaching unions expressed concern that increasing numbers of children were coming to school hungry.

According to Department of Education figures, 101,063 pupils were eligible for free school meals in 2015/16, with 82,002 of eligible pupils taking them up.

Parents who are working in low-income jobs or are on some benefits can apply for free school meals for their children.

Some children with special educational needs are also eligible.

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