Thursday 29 Oct
Updated Thursday 29 Oct 10:00

Hammers tackling Holiday Hunger

The West Ham United Foundation has delivered its Holiday Hunger programme, providing free healthy meals, alongside sport, to school pupils who are most vulnerable, over the past two years

Holiday hunger goes even further than just supporting children though, and offers to educate the parents of all participants how to cook and prepare affordable and healthy meals for their children, to decrease the risk of targeted children going hungry during school holidays. 

To date, Holiday Hunger has delivered over 3,000 meals across more than 50 sessions in school holidays in East London and Essex, providing more than one million calories to children.

West Ham United’s surrounding boroughs are some of the most deprived in the UK and, according to statistics, poverty and inequality levels have increased dramatically throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Over the last eight months there has been a huge rise is foodbank usage and tens of thousands of people have been accessing them for the first time. The Trussell Trust recently released analysis demonstrating that families with children have been impacted the most and forecasting a 61% increase in food parcels needed across its UK network between October and December.

Reports show that each year around three million children are at risk of hunger during the school holidays; during the school holidays families incur extra costs, covering the loss of free school meals can add on average £30-40 per child every week to a typical household shopping bill. Additionally, families have to pay fees to keep their children mentally and physically stimulated or fund extra childcare. 

During the COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year, West Ham concentrated its efforts on supporting local foodbanks, providing and delivering food parcels to people most at risk of going hungry. Over 350 hours were dedicated to supporting holiday hunger and foodbank outreach, delivering more than 1,125 bags of food across east London. 

Since the initiative began in 2018, the programme has been consistently recognised through the Club’s Players’ Project, which aims to raise awareness of key areas of work in the community. Club Captain Mark Noble is an ambassador of the Poverty strand and has repeatedly commented on the importance of the programme, conveying his shock that in this day and age children were still having to go hungry and also acknowledging the incredible need across the local community which the Club helps to address. 

Furthermore, in April, Noble made a personal donation of £35,000 to his local borough of Basildon, with the funds being used to help ensure vulnerable people received food and medicines. 

In the last three months the Foundation has partnered with Tower Hamlets Council, Active Essex and Basildon Council to deliver its Holiday Hunger scheme to those most in need. In August, the Foundation reached over 1,000 children in Tower Hamlets and more than 500 in Essex, whom received a total of 5,000 meals. 

West Ham United Foundation CEO, Joseph Lyons, said: “We’re extremely proud of the work we do to help those most vulnerable across our community. As the nation has seen through Marcus Rashford’s lobbying over the last few months, the depth of need is huge, and the issue is complex and involves a lot of moving parts. 

“For more than two years we’ve been working with local foodbanks and partners to deliver this crucial scheme; providing some respite to children and their parents by giving them a safe space to be active and receive healthy meals which they would likely otherwise go without.

“Over the next few years we will be continuing to work tirelessly with local stakeholders, strengthening our collaborations, in order to support the eradication of child food poverty across the communities we serve.”

The Holiday Hunger programme receives really positive feedback from parents and guardians:

“My little girl loved everyday she went and cant wait to return. This club helped me and my child out massively financially.”

“My child does suffer with anxiety and this club helped to make his transition back to school this week easier.”

“Thank you so much. My children really did enjoy the club. It had multiple benefits to us and we are very grateful.”

This week, the half-term Holiday Hunger scheme is being rolled out in Billericay and Laindon, in partnership with Basildon Council.