Individuals and community groups the length and breadth of Eden have risen to the challenge of helping to ensure “no child should go hungry”.
Action was taken after the Government declined to back a proposal to extend free school meals over the holidays, up to and including the Easter break next year.
In Cumbria, the number of children eligible for free school meals is 8,929, which includes 2,189 in Allerdale and 491 in Eden.
Penrith photographer Peter Ostrowski and his wife, Agnieszka, who both work at Home Bargains, have been busy donating bags of food to the town’s food bank following a social media appeal which raised hundreds of pounds.
Peter said they have a five-year-old boy, Casper, and he remembers when he was a six-year-old, living in Poland, both his parents lost their jobs at the same time before Christmas and that meant the family were struggling for food.
He told the Herald that when they saw the news that the Government was not going to extend the voucher scheme for children eligible for free school meals during the half-term break, they decided to take matters into their own hands.
As well as supporting families directly with bags of food, Peter has also dropped off £480-worth of goods to the Salvation Army-based Penrith food bank, bought using donated funds.
Elsewhere in Eden, enough produce was given out for 31 young people in Kirkby Stephen to have a packed lunch for the week.
Inspired by the campaigning of Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, Kirkby Stephen Community Support (KSCS) and its team of volunteers have been rolling up their sleeves to offer free cooked breakfasts and lunchtime picnics for families in and around the town during the past week.
Free bags of produce to make up a weeks’ worth of packed lunches were dished out on Monday, and in partnership with The Old Croft House B&B, Kirkby Stephen, a free cooked breakfast, served in their socially-distanced dining room, was on offer each weekday.
Rachel Godfrey, owner of The Old Croft House, said: “We know that this autumn half-term will be particularly hard on some families this year, and we are delighted to be working with KSCS to offer people a sample what we do best — a delicious cooked breakfast.”
Conrad Lynch, of Kirkby Stephen Community Support, said: “Thanks to our amazing donors and volunteers, KSCS is able to offer a little extra for families over what looks like a rather wet half-term holiday.”
In Penrith, the town’s golf hub, in collaboration with Kendal-based catering firm Cracking Spread and local businesses, put together a school holiday lunch service involving pre-arranged packed lunches which were collected from various pick up points.
A spokesman said: “It is an absolute travesty in this, an apparently civilised and wealthy nation, that this kind of intervention is required, but please, do not suffer in silence.”
In addition, children who would be entitled to a free school meal were able to get fed free of charge by the owners of Angel Lane Chippy, Dan and David Harding.
Between 11-30am and 2pm from Tuesday to yesterday anybody who would normally get a free school meal could approach the counter and ask for the school meal offer, with “no questions asked”.
The same applied when the Harding-owned The Chippie Van visited Winskill, Plumpton, Lazonby and High Hesket.
“Poverty should not play any part in the UK but unfortunately it does,” said Dan, who is vice-chairman of the Penrith Business Improvement District.
“There are children in need in the Eden Valley whose families are on the poverty line and can’t necessarily afford to have three meals a day.
“It’s embarrassing that we need food banks in a country like this, there should not be any need. If the Government is not going to do their bit, we are going to step in and do what we can to ensure people don’t go hungry.
“The community supports us and we would like to support the community back.”
At Shap last Thursday and Friday, any child that went into the chip shop could claim a free sausage and chips.
A spokesman for Shap Chippy said: “As the Government is not providing free school meals over half-term, we would like to aid in supporting families in this difficult time and give back what we can.”
And in Appleby, the Kings Head pub was offering a free takeaway or sit down nutritious meal to every child.