Holiday lunch club feeds growing appetite for help and support

Plates are cleaned of shepherd’s pie and broccoli at a school holiday lunch club that has seen more children through its doors than expected this summer.

Chomp provides a meal for children, most of whom have free school meals, and their parents during their school holidays at eight locations across Brighton and Hove.

The project receives funding from Brighton and Hove City Council from its third sector grants programme, as well as support from the National Lottery, Children In Need and from anonymous donations.

This year the project is currently serving about 300 meals a week.

At its session on Tuesday 13 August there were about 35 parents and children enjoying a hot lunch of meaty or vegetarian shepherd’s pie and broccoli at the One Church in Gloucester Place, Brighton.

Chomp project lead Vanessa O’Shea, who has been in the role for two months, said that they were geared up for 25 to 30 but are getting roughly 40 children and parents coming along after an increase in need this year.

On Monday 12 August there were 45 at the Benfield Primary School club in Portslade.

Universal credit may be part of the reason for the increase as it is affecting families incomes because it varies during the school holidays depending on childcare arrangements.

Mrs O’Shea said: “I was very surprised by the number of working parents, mothers with jobs, that are coming along for lunch.

“The main reasons people come is for the lunch, but also for parents who are isolated and want to meet with other mums in the school holidays.

“Activities are so expensive. Summer holidays are expensive times.”

As well as providing lunch, Chomp has an hour of craft activities and has cooking classes running every day at various venues across the city.

Mrs O’Shea said: “A big part of Chomp is nutrition. We really want to be able to use good-quality meat and veg from local suppliers.

“We use lots of veg from Rock Farm, which is linked to One Church. We’ve had day trips up there before where families pick the food and cook lunch.

“It’s also about community, getting mums to sit with kids and join in the activities together.

Chomp volunteers Mitchie Alexander and Marissa Mennella with project lead Vanessa O’Shea at the One Church in Gloucester Place in Brighton

“The families will sit down and the kids get a bit bored but the mums stay and get a chance to do something with their hands and chat together.”

There is no need for any referral, even though it is aimed at low-income families and children who would have free school meals during term time.

Mrs O’Shea said: “It thrills me so much to see kids coming in and tucking into good, healthy, nutritious food.

“It’s great to offer that to kids. We know if kids aren’t eating nutritious food, they struggle at school with their concentration.

“Targeting primary school age children will give them a better chance later on as it impacts on their education.

“It’s also about helping families with healthy eating. Kids might not have had a watermelon and this week we’ve had them tucking into it.”

At the moment school uniform donations are coming in to help struggling parents.

She said: “We are able to offer that to parents who come who are thinking about school uniforms at this time of year.”

Chomp hosts its clubs during all school holidays at Benfield, Coldean, Bevendean, Hangleton, Moulsecoomb, Whitehawk, One Church and Fabrica.

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