A number of disadvantaged schools in Ireland cannot afford to provide meals for their students due to a lack of basic equipment and personnel.
Over 100 schools that serve the most disadvantaged students do not have the funds to purchase the equipment needed to prepare food for children, such as a refrigerator and cupboards, nor can they afford to hire someone to distribute the food.
One in five children in the country go to either school or bed hungry. In an effort to fix that problem, the government is providing the School Meals Program at a cost of about $60 million, writes Caroline O’Doherty for The Irish Examiner. This funding will help the highest concentration of disadvantaged children in the country, found in the 850 primary and post-primary schools in the Department of Education’s Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) program.
However, the Healthy Food For All charity is asking for almost $750,000 to be allocated in order for the schools to incorporate the necessary changes, which cost an average of $7,500. They noted that although the $60 million is being provided by the Department of Social Protection, it is up to the Department of Education to make sure they can use it.
While breakfast options remain the most popular choice for participating schools, other meals are sometimes provided as well.
“The value of breakfast clubs before school cannot be underestimated. Behaviours and concentration in class improve following breakfast. In addition, the presence of parents for school meals adds to the sense of community and fosters good relationships between home and school,” said Norah Gibbons, the chairwoman of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
Gibbons was speaking before a conference concerning food poverty, held in Dublin, where discussions pertained to the increasing number of people going without enough food.
During the recession, food poverty rose from 10% of the population in 2010 to 13.2% in 2013. That means in only three years, the number of people who do not have enough food in the country rose from 450,000 people to over 600,000.
In addition to ensuring all schools can provide meals for children, Healthy Food for All is asking the government to invest another $3.5 million to expand upon the Community Food Initiatives program in order to ensure that there is at least one in every county within the next five years.
The program increases the availability of healthy food options to low-income people at the local level through the creation of community gardens, nutrition and cooking classes, and community cafes, among other options.