HUNDREDS of hard-up families have been claiming free packed lunches every day from the town’s first food bank for youngsters.
The scheme — set up to feed the poorest school pupils over the summer holidays — has been hailed as a “brilliant success” after an average of 600 children per day received a free lunch.
Bolton charity Urban Outreach enlisted an army of volunteers over the summer break to make and distribute the picnic lunches to thousands of children across the town.
The BL14 lunch project was put together in a matter of weeks after concerns were raised about what would happen to the 9,000 children in Bolton who receive free school meals once the summer holidays come around.
The charity’s chief executive, Dave Bagley, said: “The issue is that for many of these families they rely on free school meals.
“When they are receiving them for most of the year they perhaps don’t factor the summer holidays into their budget.
“Some might say that may be they should budget for it, but we are not here to judge, we are purely here to help the children. It is not their fault and it is their human right to have a lunch.
“The project has been absolutely brilliant. We have had some nice feedback from the kids who seemed to thoroughly enjoy their sandwiches.”
Figures released by Kelloggs this month claimed one in eight youngsters were not getting a square meal every day without free school lunches or breakfast clubs.
The report said more than a third of teachers noticed pupils lost weight during the summer holidays.
Food bank charity the Trussell Trust backed up the findings and said demand for emergency supplies rose by 21 per cent last August.
Mr Bagley said the majority of families using the lunch project were those with low income working parents, including many on zero hours contracts.
He added: “They are the people hurting the most because, at least with benefits, you know when the money is coming in.”
Latest figures show a 19 per cent increase in the number of people admitted to hospital with malnutrition over the past year.
Health chiefs put the rise down extreme poverty and the increased use of food banks.
Last year, food banks in Bolton fed more than 10,000 people in just six months and an average of 1,970 people used food bank vouchers every month.
Alex Malone, project manager for the Farnworth and Kearsley food bank, said she had seen a rise in usage of the food bank over the summer.
She said: “Our figures show that an extra 71 people used the food bank across June and July and I think many of these were families that were used to having free school meals.”
Urban Outreach is still looking for donations towards the cost of the scheme and volunteers to help make the lunches for the next week.
Anyone who can help can call 01204 385848 or email firstname.lastname@example.org