We have to do better to ensure young people have enough to eat

By Kieran Harding, Managing Director, Business in the Community

As I put pen to paper, I feel quite emotional about this subject. I never thought that I would live in a time where we have so much materially, and yet we have children coming to school hungry.

As we sit on the brink of a new political deal, the impacts of no functioning government in Northern Ireland are becoming more and more critical. Leaders and employees in many voluntary and community organisations are coming to work every day under the funding ‘cloud’. The end of March signals a point where these organisations may cease to exist or there may be significant job losses. The knock-on effect is that more people will face food insecurities.

As the cost-of-living crisis squeeze is tightening, we brought together a task force made up of Northern Ireland businesses to consider what we could do to help both businesses and society.

The first step was to set up a Cost-of-Living Hub, giving practical information, calling for businesses to take a number of positive steps and sharing examples of what other businesses were doing to help their people and their communities.

The second step was to work with business to determine a grassroots project that organisations could support that would make a significant difference. What became obvious very quickly was the magnitude of challenges Northern Ireland faces, and the humbling reality that we cannot solve everything, so we focused minds and attention on one initiative that we could collaboratively work on and have now launched the Good Food Fund.

With everything we do at Business in the Community, I push the team to answer Why? Why are we doing what we do? Why will it make a difference? Why should businesses support it?

So why the Good Food Fund? There are currently 796 primary schools in Northern Ireland and 151 of these (19%) have a Free School Meal Entitlement (FSME) of 40%+. Around 97,000 children in Northern Ireland are eligible for FSME. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report last year, “nearly one-in-five people in Northern Ireland are living in poverty, including more than 100,000 children, and 1 in 14 households are in food insecurity.” Food in school was the biggest challenge identified by our consultation with primary schools. Could there be a bigger why?

The Good Food Fund aims to support 10,000 primary school children access nutritious food in the school environment through Breakfast Clubs, Classroom Grab and Go Baskets, and in procuring white goods for storage and preparation of snacks until the end of December 2023.

The Good Fund Fund has been founded by Belfast Harbour and Danske Bank and is supported by firmus energy, JP Corry, Lidl Northern Ireland, Phoenix Natural Gas, Power NI, PwC, SHS Group, SSE Airtricity and Version 1.

So how can businesses get involved?

Firstly, we are not asking for lots and lots of money from one or two companies. We want as many businesses as possible to be involved. The collaborative power of business working together ensures the impacts are shared across Northern Ireland for the benefit of as many as possible. For as little as £250, we can help a school to buy a good quality fridge or freezer. £1,000 will ensure support for 65 – 100 children at a Breakfast Club for two days and week, and £3,000 will enable this to happen for five days a week until the end of the year. The sooner we get funds out to school, the quicker they can get started. Furthermore every pound raised will go directly to schools.

The process for businesses to make a donation, and for schools to apply, is very easy. All of the information is available online at https://www.bitcni.org.uk/good-food-fund. Any support will be much appreciated and shared immediately with those schools and children in the most need.

So, I’ll leave you with the why. Why not support the Good Good Fund today? Together, we can make a positive difference and prevent many children from being hungry.