As 2020 draws to an end, Naomi Duncan – our Chief Executive – looks back on a difficult year and reflects on the support that made our work possible.

Nicole was recently working with a team of chefs from three different organisations, to make 1,500 burgers from mince donated to the Felix Project, destined as a special treat for kids in Enfield. The equipment they expected didn’t turn up, so they improvised. Just as things started to seem manageable, the table collapsed under the weight of the meat.

But…

The burgers were made and kids got their festive treat (apparently, they enjoyed it a lot too!).

It seemed an appropriate end to 2020, a good analogy for the whole year. Working in collaboration, adapting to ever changing circumstances. Occasionally coming completely unstuck, but bouncing back and ultimately, through teamwork, kids getting fed.

We’ve certainly learnt a lot this year. 

One inescapable lesson was realising the fragile nature of food security for so many families in our communities. 

Nerissa, one of our chef trainers, was working in schools when they started to close back in March.

“The week before lockdown, a little girl came to the counter to ask for another plate so she could share her lunch with a friend. I said, tell her to come and have a lunch. It turned out the cupboards at the girl’s home were completely empty, she was so hungry. She ate and we packed her some food to take home. Her family were the early victims of the poverty the pandemic was to bring.”

We started our free school meal hampers the following week – and it’s still running today, supporting children & families who are being hardest hit by the economic impact of the pandemic.

We’ve also seen the enormous power of collaboration and, to end the year with a bright thought, the kindness inherent in so much of our society. We’ve constantly been humbled by the support that we’ve received directly, enabling us to distribute nearly 400,000 meals to families in need, and by other movements that have been supported across the UK. From Marcus Rashford’s #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign, to thousands of small businesses stepping up to provide a food safety net in the October half term. So many people have reached out to help others in need this year, if that isn’t a reason to be hopeful, I don’t know what is.

To everyone working in the school food industry, who dusted themselves off after every new curveball, and kept turning up every day to make sure the children who needed it the most didn’t go without – we salute you. We’re never been more certain of the importance of school food, as a vital means of tackling hunger, as well as a source of nutrition, education, social experience.

And to everyone this year who gave time, money or produce to help us run the hamper programme, including formidable humans like Libby Burke-Wilde – who did all of those and took it one step further, also donating her talents to create #TinnedPears in support of our campaigning, we’d like to say a huge thank you. Your efforts have been so appreciated – and you also gave our small team so many reasons to be hopeful and cheerful in this most difficult year. I couldn’t say it better than the words of a parent who received a festive hamper last week:

“I don’t really know how to word this but I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for your hampers, just received this one and I’m in tears, we are beyond grateful for it and the present for my kids is such a lovely touch and so much appreciated, having never had to rely on free school meals before this crazy year, it’s been hard going from financially stable to struggling to feed the kids. So I want to thank all of you so much, this honestly means the world and has completely left me overwhelmed. We hope you all have a lovely Christmas and thank you so much.” 

Thank you from all of us at Chefs in Schools.