By Tara O’Connor, Local Democracy Reporter
The heartbreaking revelation that a young carer was going home to an empty fridge prompted a Croydon secondary school to open up its own food bank.
More than 50 families visited the food bank at Thomas More Catholic School in Purley on Wednesday.
Mandi Larner, safeguarding lead at the school, said: “We set it up because of lockdown – some of our students were really struggling.
“We started off inviting free school meals families, but we realised there are a lot of families struggling who have been furloughed who don’t have access to free school meals.
“One student who is a young carer told me there was no food in the fridge at home. It was devastating, it really broke my heart.
“Not having access to food has a massive impact on children. I don’t want to hear about children going into hospital due to malnutrition.”
Daniel Rovai was visiting the food bank with his 14-year-old son Samuel.
Like thousands in Croydon, the travel agent has not been able to work throughout the pandemic.
Daniel, who also has two daughters aged 11 and eight, said he has not been in the position where he has had to visit a food bank before.
He said: “I am currently not working due to Covid, there is absolutely no income at all at the moment.
“We haven’t really been doing any big shops and when we do go we only get the basic lines.
“I don’t know when I will be back to work so anything to help at this time is a real bonus.”
Ms Larner has been at the school for four years and said she has noticed more families struggling financially in the past year or so.
She added: “I think generally people have less money now, things have changed for universal credit and less families have access to free school meals.
“And now furlough is a big reason, we still don’t know how many families will lose their jobs.
“It feels like a barrage of things that our families have to put up with.”
This summer 1.3 million children across England will benefit from the Government’s Covid Summer Food Fund after pressure from footballer Marcus Rashford.
The food vouchers will be worth £15 per week per eligible child.
Ms Larner hopes that food handed out by the school this week will mean that those who do receive the vouchers will be able to use them for fresh foods, knowing their cupboards are fully stocked.
The school managed to gather donations in just a week with enough packs to share with neighbouring Mary Roper Primary School and to be delivered to families that are shielding.
Headteacher at the Russell Hill Road school, Nathan Walters, said: “I’ve been quite saddened knowing what we normally provide has been compromised in the Covid time.
“I am glad we can step up for them at this time, the summer holidays for some of the students will be another six weeks of not having the support that school provides for them.
“For a lot of our children it will have been a very difficult time. For so many of them school is a safe and secure place.”
Pictured top: Nathan Walters and Mandi Larner in the middle with other Thomas More teachers manning the food bank (Picture: Tara O’Connor)
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