After the government stumped up £2 million, more than 15,000 children across Devon will receive food vouchers this Christmas from the county council.
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Children who currently get free school meals and their families can redeem the vouchers in major supermarkets over the school holidays. Arrangements are being made for families who cannot get to a supermarket. Eligible children in pre-school and young people in sixth form colleges will also receive the vouchers.
One million pounds is being spent on the scheme at Christmas, and a further million in the February half-term and at Easter. The government caved into providing cash to councils for food vouchers after a campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford.
Devon’s Cabinet member for communities, Roger Croad, said: “We are enlisting the help of our schools in publicising this to families and alerting us to anyone they feel might miss out and I am very grateful to them for their help and support.
“In addition to issuing the vouchers to families directly, we’ll also be providing them to our Early Help teams, children’s centres, food networks and district councils who will be able to help vulnerable families who may not be eligible for free school meals.”
Mr Croad said the county council was working with local council partners in Team Devon to ensure vulnerable families do not slip through the net.
In addition, the council is working with the Devon Community Foundation to set up food networks across the county with at least one in every district. Food networks will include community kitchens, charities, cafes and pubs who will be asked to provide food for those in need.
Mr Croad said: “We have seen an overwhelming response from communities and voluntary and community organisations already this year.
“An investment in these emerging networks and the great organisations within them will provide timely and much-needed funding and co-ordination.”
Mr Croad said Devon had received just over £2 million from the Government to fund the operation. He said 80 per cent of that was being spent on food with funding also available to support household costs such as heating, cooking and lighting for the most vulnerable families.
The county had already committed £1.7 million towards combating hardship, particularly for those families who had been worst affected by the pandemic, and this fund was being administered by Devon’s district councils.
He praised officers who had worked swiftly with partners to bring the programme together and he said he was hoping most vouchers would be issued by the second week of December. Parents and carers of children currently receiving free school meals will be sent letters and emails from 7 December) with information about how to access their vouchers.
Many families in Devon have seen their financial circumstances change due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. People who didn’t previously qualify for free school meals but whose income has recently reduced or stopped, can apply online through the Devon County Council website which can also be used to check eligibility. The council’s education helpline is on 0345 155 1019.