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Coronavirus: UNICEF to feed hungry children in the UK for first time in 70-year history

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By Euronews
Volunteers check the quality of donated food to be put in packs delivered to residents who need it in the Haringey Council area, London, April 2020.
Volunteers check the quality of donated food to be put in packs delivered to residents who need it in the Haringey Council area, London, April 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Matt Dunham

For the first time in its 70-year history, UNICEF has launched an emergency response to help feed children in the UK impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

The United Nation's agency for children is to award grants to 30 local organisations through its "Food Power for Generation COVID" initiative.

One of those organisations is School Food Matters which will deliver 18,000 nutritious breakfasts to 25 schools in the south London district of Southwark for the Christmas holidays and a further 6,500 during the February half-term. This will support 1,800 families. 

"The coronavirus crisis is having an unprecedented impact on children's lives — their support systems ripped apart, their education lost, their access to food impacted," Anna Kettley, director of programmes at UNICEF UK, said.

"Through these grants, we hope to reach the UK's most vulnerable children and their families and ensure they receive the vital food support they need to eat well. Our goal is to ensure that children survive the coronavirus crisis — and thrive beyond it," she added.

According to UNICEF, 2.4 million British children already grow up in food-insecure households and over a fifth of these households with children have gone hungry during the lockdown due to financial difficulty.

Stephanie Slater, founder and CEO of School Food Matters said in a statement that "the response to our summer Breakfast Boxes programme has shown us that families are really struggling and many were facing the grim reality of a two-week winter break without access to free school meals and the indignity of having to rely on food banks to feed their children."

"By providing our Breakfast Boxes, families know that their children will have a great start to the day with a healthy nutritious breakfast.

"We cannot continue to rely on civil society to fill the hunger gap as too many children will miss out on the nutrition they need to thrive," she added.

The news that the humanitarian agency has launched its first programme in the UK — one of the world's most developed nations — since its creation after World War II has heaped pressure on the government.

Angela Rayner from the main opposition Labour party, called it "a disgrace".

"We are one of the richest countries in the world. Our children should not have to rely on humanitarian charities that are used to operating in war zones and on response to natural disasters to feed them this Christmas," she said, adding: "Boris Johnson should be ashamed."

Marcus Rashford, a 22-year-old Manchester United footballer who successfully challenged the government to extend a free school meal scheme over the summer months because of the COVID-19 crisis, wrote on Twitter: "We have to come together to protect our most vulnerable. We all have a role to play."

The government has so far rejected his call for the scheme to also run through the end-of-year holiday period. 

Euronews has contacted the government for a response.