A push by Bexley Labour party members to raise funds to provide the borough’s hungry schoolchildren with free meals over the half-term break has blown through the £6,000-mark in just three days.
The Feed Bexley Kids campaign is the latest local initiative stepping in after the government turned down a motion to extend free school meals into the holidays.
While the initial plan was to raise £1,000 to help 100 families in Bexley, those behind the push have been amazed at the level of support – with more than £6,000 received by Tuesday morning.
Thamesmead East councillor Mabel Ogundayo, one of the campaign’s founders, said they had already received more than 300 calls for help from families. Alongside fellow founders and local Labour party figures Dave Tingle and Anna Day, she reiterated calls for Bexley Council to follow neighbouring Greenwich and Lewisham with its own free school meals programme.
“Through the donations we have received thus far, we know we will be able to help at least 500 children, but sadly that’s nowhere near enough,” Ogundayo said. “The council still have time to take action and stop children in Bexley going hungry this half term.”
Tingle, a former parliamentary candidate for the seat of Old Bexley and Sidcup, said although it was “wonderful” to see locals help out, it was a “short term solution”. “It would not have been needed if Bexley Council had decided, just like almost all other London boroughs, to provide free school meals over half term,” he said.
Bexley and neighbouring Bromley are among a handful of London boroughs not offering free meals. Bromley pointed to “enhanced” support available to parents in the borough, a message echoed by Bexley.
“We know this half term may be a difficult time for some families,” Bexley leader Teresa O’Neill told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
“We have been working tirelessly since the beginning of lockdown with our partners and our wonderful voluntary sector to give the help and support needed to our most vulnerable residents including families including the delivery of food, essentials and prescriptions. We are always here to provide support to our most vulnerable children and families.”
She said families could access services such as Citizens Advice, which can issue food bank vouchers as well as offering help and advice around money and debt.
The Tory leader also encouraged residents to make use the NHS Healthy Start scheme for those with children under four.
“We work closely with our local food banks and stand ready to respond if they need additional support during school holidays,” she said.
Residents can donate to the Feed Bexley Kids campaign at justgiving.com.
Lachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Bexley. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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