child painting

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We are working with our partners to extend their support beyond food and to include arts materials, games and sports equipment

Many disadvantaged families across the UK face severe strain while struggling to feed and look after their children this summer. Increased food donations from retailers and the wider supply chain continue to be vital in helping to ensure food banks can meet the growing demand. But alongside this, there is also an opportunity for businesses to support children’s and parents’ wider wellbeing by providing product donations beyond food.

Every summer there is extra pressure on low-income families and a surge in the use of food banks, with up to three million children at risk of going hungry. For the families already struggling to get by, the added expense of food and childcare costs can push them into serious difficulty. The recent National Food Strategy highlights the long-lasting damaging effects of hunger on young bodies and minds, and though holiday hunger isn’t a new issue, it has been worsened by the impact of the Covid-19 crisis across the UK. While the government’s decision to extend the food voucher scheme over summer will support many children, there remains a massive need for food provision as levels of hunger continue to rise.

Neighbourly’s recent survey of our UK-wide network of local community causes, which includes many food banks and other providers of emergency food, highlights the escalating demand. Local groups estimate they are currently supporting an average of almost 300 people each week, a 106% rise on pre-pandemic levels. With companies across the UK – including our partners M&S, Aldi, Lidl, Innocent and Danone – making increased food donations available since the start of the pandemic, there is no doubt that business support is helping to provide a vital lifeline.

However, hunger is unfortunately just one dimension of the difficulties that individuals and families are facing, and it is important that we take a holistic view of local community need, considering an individual’s need for nourishment and support beyond food. The children who are most at risk of hunger during the holidays also face social isolation and inactivity, as disadvantaged families struggle with very limited resources and space. To help address this, and provide struggling families with comfort and escape, we are working with our partners to extend their support beyond food and to include arts materials, games and sports equipment.

Having recently heard from more than 1,000 community causes across our network, we know the big difference that these simple items could make. Two-thirds of the community groups we support said the people who rely on their services would benefit from children’s arts and craft and learning materials, with 58% saying the same for children’s toys and games, and 77% for kitchen and cooking items. During lockdown, the publishers Penguin and Hachette UK donated a total of more than 30,000 books through our platform, making a big difference to disadvantaged families and isolated older people.

Without urgent action, the Covid-19 crisis threatens to have a major long-term negative impact on our most left behind neighbourhoods, as a recent parliamentary report made clear. Of course, product donations can only be one part of a systemic approach to addressing community need, but at this time of crisis, we must all continue to find ways to help to those who need it now. Businesses won’t survive unless our communities thrive, and we all have a role to play in reducing the existing inequalities and vulnerabilities that threaten to get much worse.

Retailers, producers and manufacturers have played a vital role in supporting communities since the pandemic began, but with the pressures and hardship that so many families face, now is the time for businesses to continue to step up, and not step back. Together we can help to bring much-needed support to people in great difficulty.