Sunday, June 23, 2024

Free school meals: Teacher asks if any politician will go hungry at Christmas

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Nicola Stevenson says she feels like no one is addressing the issues facing families in Northern Ireland.

Craigavon ​​headteacher in County Armagh asks politicians questions. How many of us have to choose between heating our homes and putting food on the table during the Christmas holidays?

From students passing out from hunger to students without beds at home, Nicola Stevenson has noticed “additional needs” at Brownlow College this year.

Approximately 50% receive free school meals.

But these students may not receive a hot meal for two weeks after holiday hunger benefits are cut off in March.

“Politicians don’t see what we see every day,” Mrs Stevenson told BBC News NI.

“You can talk to Jeffrey Donaldson and Michelle O’Neill and tell some of the stories that we’ve seen, but there’s a disconnect there.

“How many politicians have to choose between keeping the heat on and feeding their families for Christmas? I know this is a dilemma for many families at my school.

“Come to school. Look at the kids who come in hungry, with holes in their shoes, wearing shirts that are the last time they saw water. In need of help. Look at the real kids out there.”

The grant of £27 per child every two weeks was meant to support the families of around 100,000 pupils who are entitled to free school meals during the school holidays.

Northern Ireland is currently the only region of the UK where support is not available during the school holidays.

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More than 96,000 children in Northern Ireland are entitled to free school meals

This means that although senior civil servants control Northern Ireland’s government departments, the decisions they can make are limited in the absence of ministers.

How can I get everyone to sit down?

“Those who are suffering are not just statistics, they are real people,” Mrs Stevenson said.

“The families we see every day are really struggling to afford the basics, let alone luxuries.

“When you look at a child who is hungry, you see how it affects their behavior, their ability to concentrate, their mental and physical health. This is very real.

“How can anyone just sit around and do nothing? We’re trying to do everything we can to help, but we’re really, really worried about some families who are on holiday.

“Politicians have to do their part, but they can’t do that if they’re not even part of the government.

“These are issues that are affecting schools across Northern Ireland, but we are being offered little or no support.”

Brownlow Integrated College offers a free breakfast club for students, with toast provided at the school’s expense for those who are hungry throughout the day.

Just over half of the school’s population receives free school meals, but Ms Stevenson said many more children were coming to school hungry and were therefore entitled to free lunches. Told.

image source, Brownlow University

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Brownlow offers free breakfast club at school

“Many of our children live in true poverty,” Mrs Stevenson said.

“I’m not saying you can’t afford wine and Chinese takeout on a Friday night, I’m saying you can’t afford a can of baked beans.

“Last week I had a mother who couldn’t afford to buy food for school and she had about 16p in her purse and luckily I happened to have some baskets sitting around so I gave her 16p. Let’s talk about gratitude.

“Most of our parents don’t want benefits and certainly don’t want to ask for help. We have to respect that, but we always try to support them as much as possible. I will try my best.”

image source, Daniel Leal/Getty Images

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Stevenson said many families were reluctant to ask for help, but had no choice but to turn to food banks.

Mrs Stevenson said the increase in the number of “working poor” had become noticeable recently.

“There are working parents who can’t afford to come to school and go to an assembly because they can’t afford to put extra gas in their car and come to school,” she says.

“They’re doing their best, but they’re living paycheck to paycheck.”

‘We need help’

In order to support families in need this Christmas, staff brought presents and gave them to students as presents.

“Children were able to come pick out their toys and wrap them themselves, so they knew their little brother or sister would get something special on Christmas Day. ” said the principal.

“As educators, there’s only so much we can do, especially with limited budgets, but we need help. These kids need help.”

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