Social workers feeding Lothian children over summer

Penicuik: Volunteers from Penicuik North Kirk and a Tesco staff member with groceries. Picture; contributed
Penicuik: Volunteers from Penicuik North Kirk and a Tesco staff member with groceries. Picture; contributed
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SOCIAL workers are distributing church-donated meals to Lothian children during the school holidays as the region’s food poverty crisis worsens.

The project at Penicuik North Kirk, which is being delivered using congregation funds, sees specialist staff take five lunches a week to 49 vulnerable youngsters.

Called No Kid Goes Hungry, it is one of a number of new church schemes aimed at making it easier for residents to feed their families.

Dr Alan Naylor, an elder who helps run the initiative, said: “More than 400 children in Penicuik get free school meals.

“We can’t feed them all but we are targeting the most vulnerable children. It’s going well and we are excited to do it, although we think it should not be necessary.

“We are providing five lunches a week to 49 children referred by the council’s Children and Families Unit.

“We have 27 volunteers on a rota and each week four volunteers go shopping for fresh food. After we have prepared the lunches, social workers come to collect lunches for their kids.”

He added: “What is exciting is that we’ve just been awarded a £13,500 grant [from Faith in Community Scotland] so we can continue for the next three years.”

In the Capital, Liberton Kirk church cafe has started a “pay-it-forward” project allowing customers to donate meals to children.

Working with three primary schools, staff convert the donations into vouchers which are then distributed to pupils and can be exchanged at the cafe.

Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, secretary of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, praised the initiatives. But he said the decision by congregations to intervene in the fight against food poverty was a sign of the need for “systemic change”.

“Holiday hunger is a growing problem in Scotland, with a number of charities including Children in Scotland, Child Poverty Action Group, and the Poverty Alliance, calling for action,” he said.

“It is, therefore, particularly encouraging to see local churches – and others – stepping in to help.

“At the same time, we need to go further. The fundamental problem is not lack of food, but lack of money.

“Food poverty is overwhelmingly caused by low wages, a drop in real terms of the value of social security benefits and multiple failings in their delivery.

“That’s why it is also so encouraging that the congregations which are carrying out this vital work are also calling for more systemic change.”

A spokeswoman for Midlothian Council said: “Our family support team delivers food to identified families on a Monday, which incorporates lunch packs for the next five days and this continues for the duration of the summer holiday period. The food is supplied by Penicuik North Kirk and associated churches.

“Within the family support team this is part of our normal working practice and duty, identifying need within our communities and working in partnership to best address this.”