Here to Serve – the Catholic Schools Stepping up to Feed the Hungry During COVID-19


The coronavirus pandemic has pushed many families from a difficult financial situation into an impossible one. Since lockdown began in March, Caritas Westminster has been supporting schools across the Diocese as they have rallied to ensure families do not go hungry. 

A recent study by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England found that 80% of low income families had seen a ‘significant deterioration’ in their living standards.  The same survey found that nearly 9 in 10 families faced additional costs as a result of coronavirus, and were spending substantially more on food, electricity, and other essentials. Low income families spend a much higher share of their income on these items, so this has a disproportionate impact on them. 

Many schools already knew they had families who were struggling, but lockdown both highlighted and exacerbated the problem. The Government’s Free School Meal voucher scheme took a while to get off the ground, and schools saw a rising desperation amongst families who relied on Free School Meals to ensure their children had enough to eat. In response many schools began buying their own vouchers or setting up emergency food relief schemes themselves. 

Danny Coyle head Newman

Danny Coyle, Head teacher of Newman Catholic College in West London, explained that when the schools closed their initial focus was on ensuring students could keep learning from home. However, it wasn’t long before the focus moved on to ensuring pupils had enough to eat. The school worked with local volunteers who used the school kitchen to cook emergency meals. Soon they were delivering up to 200 meals a day, with funding and support from Caritas Westminster and the Cardinal’s Appeal.

Another school in West London set up a weekly food parcel scheme, made up entirely of donations from families at the school. Several parents came forward asking to receive parcels, but others who were in need did not feel comfortable asking for help. The Headteacher made sure they did not miss out, delivering food parcels to their doorsteps herself.  

Some schools are even running foodbanks on their premises for the local community to use. David O’Farrell, Head teacher at St Bernadette’s school, Harrow, started a foodbank at the school 5 years ago, but since the pandemic he has seen a big increase in the number of people using it. St Elizabeth’s in East London has also opened its own foodbank to meet local need. Tracy Jennings, Deputy Head, told us that schools are perfect locations for foodbanks as they often know who is in need and are well placed to support their community. 

Schools exist to educate children, not to feed them. But all the schools Caritas Westminster has been working with felt passionately that it was their job as Catholic schools to serve their community. One Headteacher said she felt it was important that as a Catholic School they showed their children a real example of the ‘Church’s social teaching in action’. 

As children head back to school many parents will be relieved to see their children receiving free hot meals again. However, this will not be the case for families with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). During the pandemic the Government extended Free School Meals vouchers to families whose immigration status means they are not entitled to essential welfare support, but this provision is ending as term starts. Schools told Caritas these families are often the most in need, but go under the radar unless they disclose their immigration status. Caritas Westminster has joined with 60 other organisations writing to the Education Secretary to call for Free School Meals to be permanently extended to families with NRPF, ensuring children do not suffer because of their parents’ immigration status. 
Caritas Westminster will continue supporting the vital work of Catholic schools and parishes across the diocese as the effects of the pandemic play out in our communities. So far 119 parishes and schools have benefitted from the Caritas Emergency Supermarket Scheme, with over 40 schools participating in the scheme over the summer holidays. This work has been kindly funded by the Albert Gubay Foundation and the St John Southworth Fund.

Read more about the call to extend Free School Meals to families with No Recourse to Public Funds.

Read more about the response of Newman Catholic College 



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