Big-hearted businesses and charities across the Island have come together to ensure our children have meals during half-term after Conservative MPs, including Bob Seely, voted against extending a scheme put in place while schools were closed during the Covid crisis.
However, a variety of measures to help the children have been set up all over the Island by individuals and businesses who were not willing to see Island kids go hungry over the holiday.
Mark and Charlotte Kelly and Greg Barnes of Socialising Buddies were so moved that they stepped back from the business to work full-time on the project, raising more than £7,000 to support businesses offering food to those in need, and they plan to help families over Christmas as well, using any money left over from this campaign.
Mark said that the response had been ‘phenomenal’. He said: “We were absolutely bowled over by how many people have got involved. It all started when I called Gary Peach of the Happy Haddock in Shanklin and offered him £500 to give 500 portions of chips to kids who were going hungry this week – he immediately upgraded that to Happy Meals. Since then it has just snowballed beyond belief; we’ve had so many offers of help – it has been phenomenal.” He said he couldn’t thank everybody enough and it was important that Islanders knew that they don’t have to justify asking for help – it is there if they need it.
He was scathing about Mr Seely’s vote. He said: “I was disgusted; he should be fighting for the people he represents and supporting those in need. These kids are our future at the end of the day. These are dark times. Furlough payments stop at the end of this week and many people are living on the breadline. We work with vulnerable people every day and see the need and the poverty. How he can draw a salary of over £80k, massive expenses, eat subsidised food in Westminster and then vote not to feed children from poor families I don’t know.”
He said that he had emailed Mr Seely a week ago but had no reply. He added that Dave Stewart, Leader of the IW Council, had been in touch praising the campaign and offering to work together to make sure no Island child goes hungry over Christmas.
You can contact Mark on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07960 194888. Their fundraising page justgiving.com/crowdfunding/socialisingbuddiesfeedtheisland will remain open for donations until next Friday (Nov 6).
Another such project is being led by Steve Harris and Mark Holmes, who own the Chequers Inn, Rookley, the White Lion, Niton and Long Island cocktail bar, Newport.
Cally Trott, Manager of the White Lion, is organising food collections and distribution to the various organisations who have been in touch with them. She explained: “We are offering our help in providing free meals to vulnerable Island children. In order to give help where it’s needed most, we are asking charities, schools or anyone who is already involved with this to get in touch so we know where best to give our support.
“We are making around 2,000 meals available and will probably carry on the scheme over Christmas. We’re setting up a Go Fund Me page to raise money which will be donated to various Island charities such as The Foodbank.
“We have already delivered fresh fruit and veg to the YMCA and we are giving 150 tubbed-up meals to the children of Lanesend Primary School in Cowes. We’ve had a really good response and our staff are all doing their bit as well. The three businesses have teamed up and the staff’s tips for a week will be donated to the fund while the head chef of Long Island, Dan Mitchard, is donating £1 for every meal he serves on Saturday. Our chef here at the White Lion, Sean Jeffers, will match it as will our owners Mark and Steve.
“Anyone who would like to help get in touch via our Facebook account @chequersinniow or email email@example.com.”
Pan Together, a charity which provides a community hub for residents of east Newport, has also launched a scheme to fund free meals for vulnerable children at Barton Primary School. While the Isle of Wight Zoo, Sandown, The Beach Hut, Bembridge, The Original Phil’s Diner and The Retreat, Newport, The Boat House, Seaview, The Fishbourne Inn, Fishbourne, Aspire, Ryde, Corrie’s Cabin, Cowes and The Spinnaker, Bembridge who are among just some of the other organisation that have been helping out.
Cllr Dave Stewart said: This is a fantastic local response. Ensuring no Island child goes hungry over Christmas will need some co-ordination to acheive the maximum benefit – but it is a real opportunity for some good cross-party and cross-community engagement”.
Statement from Bob Seely MP
I welcome the action that was taken to ensure that eligible children were still able to get free school meals during the period of partial school closures and over the summer holidays. The national voucher scheme saw over £380 million worth of voucher codes redeemed into supermarket e-gift cards by schools and families with over 20,000 schools placing orders. The eligibility criteria for Free School Meals was temporarily extended. This included some groups who have no recourse to public funds.
While schools were restricted from opening to all pupils, additional support was given to families in recognition of the unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainty for Island schools during this time. However, provision for free schools’ meals is ordinarily term time only.
There is already substantial additional support for Islanders, such as increased universal credit among other measures, which has already been put in place to help families through this crisis and to ensure children and their families do not go hungry. The Government has put in £9 billion extra into welfare support already and £63 million to help Councils support families in need, so significant additional help is already going to families on the Island and across Britain.