More than £150,000 was paid out by Durham County Council as part of its school meals support offering during October’s half-term holiday, helping to feed over 10,000 youngsters in the process.
A new scheme was launched by the council last month which enabled parents and carers whose children are eligible for means-tested free school meals to apply for one £15 voucher per child.
This saw a total of £156,270 given to families, money which was used to provide meals for 10,418 children in County Durham.
Cllr Angela Surtees, Cabinet member for social inclusion at Durham County Council, said: “We had a really positive response to the offer and thanks to great teamwork from officers across multiple services we have been able to deliver invaluable support to families throughout the county.
“Sadly, it is the case that many families struggle to make ends meet and we must not let children go without food. We are determined that no child will go hungry in County Durham.”
The council’s Cabinet had previously pledged to provide support for meals during the Christmas holiday period after a House of Commons vote went against extending the national school meals scheme to cover school holiday periods.
However, following a campaign by the Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford, the government has announced that a winter grant scheme, to be run by councils, will provide support with food and bills, while a holiday food and activities programme is to be expanded.
A £170m ring-fenced fund will be distributed through local authorities, with at least 80 per cent earmarked for help with food and bills.
The programme will receive funding from the beginning of December until the end of March.
The holiday food and activities programme will be expanded with a £220m investment to cover Easter, summer and Christmas in 2021.
The End Child Poverty coalition published figures last month showing that 35 per cent of children in the North East are living in poverty. An estimated 16,500 children in County Durham received free school meals during the last academic year.
Cllr Olwyn Gunn, Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has made life even harder for many people and as a council we need to take every opportunity to support those in need at this difficult time.
“I’m glad that we were able to assist so many families and provide meals for well over 10,000 children in our county during the recent half-term break.”