Jean Hannah, Activities Coodinator at Croxteth Gems

..you serve a meal and the kids are eating so quickly in case the food runs out.

Jean Hannah coordinates activities for children and young people at Croxteth Gems youth club in Croxteth, who over the years have seen hunger in children and young people get gradually worse, reaching chronic levels. Jean and her colleagues have been providing food for children accessing the club the club over the past few years, but are now receiving support through the Share Your Lunch campaign through school holidays and term time too.

Tell us about some of the issues you see at Croxteth Gems..
We’ve always run a variety of activity with the children, taking them on trips to the zoo etc, but these days we’re more focused on how we’re going to feed all of the hungry kids walking through the door. We used to have a stream of about 20-25 kids coming in of a morning, which would increase over the course of the day. We’d always assumed it was just because the kids wanted a lie in of the summer holidays, but they don’t. They’re up bright and early.

Before we provided food, parents would send the children in with packed lunches, but the money just isn’t there anymore, we work with families who have got up to 4 children. That’s 28 packed lunches a week with no extra money, for 6 whole weeks. In addition to that, they’ve also got school uniforms to buy, bags, shoes, coats. There’s no school clothing grants anymore. Its expensive. It ended up that staff were giving up their own lunches to provide for the kids before we introduced food to the day. Its as hard for families as Christmas is now.

What change have you seen since you started providing food?
We now have around 60 kids coming in every morning through the holidays and staying for the day. We provide breakfast, lunch and dinner with support from the campaign – these kids aren’t thinking about what they’re doing that day; they just want to know what’s on the menu, today and tomorrow, to know where their next meal is coming from.

What are your concerns as the cold weather draws in?
We have a good relationship with parents in the community, when the cold weather comes in the topic of conversation is how expensive the gas and leccy is and how much it costs them to heat the home. I know that some of them go to bed early to keep warm without the heating on through the winter. Heating the home is just another bill. The winter is really bleak for these families.

If you look at some of the other things that impact on poverty in Croxteth, there isn’t a free ATM here. They all charge you £1.85 to take your money out, that’s over 10% if you’re on your last tenner. They bang on about your 5 a day, but there’s no fruit and veg shop in Croxteth either. The closest one is in Norris Green and that’s a bus fare away.

This year, we’re running a ’12 days of Christmas’ to help members of our community who are struggling – we’ll be distributing toys, clothes and decorations to families to help them with the pressures of winter and Christmas.

How do you recognise children who are experiencing chronic hunger in the centre?
Since we started serving food, you always see the same kids faces at the hatch, always coming back. Kids taking 4 or 5 cereal bars or fruit in the morning. Or you serve a meal and the kids are eating so quickly in case the food runs out, they’ve got food in their mouths and their hand on something else incase it goes. There’s a real panic about making sure they’re fed because food isn’t always guaranteed to them.

Sometimes, it is hidden by pride, there’s stigma about being in food poverty. I think back to the days of me being a kid, the kids who paid for their dinner had a cross on their ticket, and I had a circle because I got free meals. I’d go hungry before letting anybody see it. I sat with a marker changing the circle to a cross on some days. So I’m really conscious about not making kids any more aware that they’re from struggling families. When they come through our door, I want them all to be treated and feel the same. People are too quick to judge..

What do you see impacting on hunger levels in children?
Benefit sanctions are absolutely despicable, they put people in impossible situations. There was a girl who came in here who was told to sign on at a certain time, and even if she’d been an Olympic runner she wouldn’t have made it. She asked them to change the time because she had to get the kids to school and if she was late or the kids weren’t in school she’d be fined. She was late for the appointment and got sanctioned, but they’re not just sanctioning the parents, they’re sanctioning little kids. They’re the ones who suffer.

They get told to go to a food bank, now I don’t think they should have to exist in this day and age but they serve a purpose and they do it with their best intentions, but some of the things people are given, you can’t make a meal out of. Again, that’s why I feel offended when you see these celebrities and politicians living on £1 day for a week, you don’t know the half of it. Do it for a full year on top of everything else. Imagine having to worry every dy and trying to stretch every single pound for a whole year the health impacts are phenomenal, not just physical health, but emotional too. Food poverty is a real need and needs challenging in parliament

People are being punished for being late by being starved..
Yes, and the children are the ones who suffer most. They’ve got no control over anything at all, and they’re the ones who suffer. You look at Universal Credit, its taking people months to get a claim through, and if they don’t tick the right box then they’re back to the start of the queue and the problems begin all over again.