Exmouth businesses went above and beyond for town’s hungry children

Lunches for children prepared at Bayleaf in Exmouth. Picture: Fran Mcelhone

Lunches for children prepared at Bayleaf in Exmouth. Picture: Fran Mcelhone - Credit: Fran Mcelhone

They came in early, they stayed late, their own kids lent a hand, they reached into their own pockets to pay for extra ingredients. Exmouth town centre businesses, supported by the community, went above and beyond to ensure children didn’t go hungry this half term.

Community organisation Exmouth Friends in Need coordinated the heartfelt effort to provide packed lunches to families most in need throughout the holiday.

Hundreds of packed lunches were funded by a collective of businesses, mainly located around The Strand, with many restaurant and café business owners – already struggling due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – working extra hours to make it happen.

Their customers also cottoned on to what was happening and donated to the cause. A fund is now amassing so project packed lunch can be rolled out again at Christmas time.

This display of generosity was sparked after the government voted against extending the free school meals voucher scheme throughout half term. The vouchers are available to parents whose income falls below a certain threshold during term time only, but the scheme was continued throughout the summer holidays under a £120m ‘Covid summer food fund’, called for by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford.

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But this October, the Labour motion, which called for free school meals to be offered over the school holidays until Easter 2021, was rejected. The government said it is already supporting low-income families through the welfare system. Rashford has since praised businesses who have filled the void, dubbing them ‘Heroes of the High Street’.

Claire Austin, who founded Exmouth Friends in Need, which has helped hundreds of families since forming two years ago, and co-ordinated the packed lunch project, said: “We support families throughout the year and lots of local businesses are already offering their support.

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“Businesses and members of the community have been so generous. It’s been an amazing community effort to support some of the town’s most in-need. This kindness has made such a difference. The families we support are incredibly grateful. They’re very humbled that strangers have gone out of their way to help them.”

Claire added: “It’s not just families who are struggling due to covid restrictions, but self-employed people who have lost income and those who have lost a proportion of their income having been furloughed. You never know who is going to be impacted next.

“We’ve been very privileged to be able to help, but this is only possible through the goodwill of the community who have donated.

“We would always like to hear from any other businesses who are in a position to help. And the best way to say thank you to our local businesses, is for people in the community to support them, by using them for a meal or drink, or perhaps purchasing a voucher to visit at a later stage.”

Sarah Gibbs, manager owner of The Deli on The Strand, who also linked up with Learn to Live Tutoring to provide breakfasts throughout half term, said: “I’ve got children and I couldn’t imagine not helping. It’s been such a difficult six months due to the pandemic but we’ve been so well supported by our customers so it’s nice to be able to give something back to the community.”

Mandi Smith, assistant manager of The Bayleaf Café on The Strand, which has long supported Exmouth Friends, added: “I’m a single mum with a seven-year-old and had some struggled through furlough, so I understand what it’s like to be worried about providing for your children, so I wanted to give something back by helping out this half term.”

Other businesses which offered support include, Franklins Café, Bar & Restaurant, Sundowners café, Andrew Humphries Jewellery, The Jacket Potato Hut, The Merchant, Munch, Brunch & Lunch Café Adam Brice Tyres, The Country House Inn in Withycombe and C&C Carpets.

To find out more about volunteering with the Friends’ group or to donate to the Christmas packed lunch project visit the Exmouth Friends in Need Facebook page.

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