Parents of Larne children who receive free school meals are being offered support to see them through the summer holiday.
More than 600 children who attend schools in Larne benefit from free lunches during term time.
But the advent of summer brings with it an added financial burden for families, who have to devote more of their already-squeezed household budgets to feed the kids when they are at home.
In a bid to take some of the pressure off struggling families, a local charity is ready and willing to help by providing supplies of free food.
Larne Foodbank has fed 1,463 people – almost 500 of them children – since its inception in March, 2013. Altogether, 30 tonnes of food has been donated to the foodbank since the charity first opened its doors.
A team of about 60 volunteers are on hand to support people in crisis by providing them with a minimum of three days’ emergency food.
Foodbank volunteer Alan Turner (pictured above) told the Times: “Larne Foodbank will provide food three times in a six-month period, which could enable families to be supported several times in a year during school holidays.
“This service has been publicised through the schools in the town, but it is not restricted to these schools. Children from rural schools in the former Larne borough and children who live in the Larne area but attend schools in other towns are equally eligible. All that is required to be eligible is that a child is entitled to free school meals.”
The charity works in partnership with various agencies in the town and clients are referred via organisations such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, St Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army and Women’s Aid.
“A parent or carer must obtain a voucher from one of these referers and bring it to Craigyhill Methodist Church, where the foodbank is based,” Alan added.
“The voucher will entitle the holder to have three days’ supply of long-life food for the whole family.”
The foodbank scheme, supported by the Trussell Trust – the UK’s only food bank network – relies on donations of non-perishable food.
Churches and a number of businesses throughout the town act as donation points, and the food is then collected, weighed and prepared for distribution on designated days.
And while the service is a faith-based charity, Alan stressed that it does not actively promote religion to those who attend for food.
He added: “The main reasons people attend the foodbank are low incomes, benefit changes and delays and homelessness.
“There is still some stigma attached to using foodbanks, and some people can be quite embarrassed, even ashamed about having to turn to the foodbank for support.
“But when people come to us for help, they discover it is not such a terrible experience. While clients are waiting in the foodbank for their food parcels to be made up, they are offered tea or coffee, a biscuit and a friendly chat with one of our volunteers.
“Our message to those who are struggling to feed themselves or their families is simply this; We are here to help.”
Alan expressed his gratitude to those who donate to the foodbank, and paid tribute to the team of volunteers who “give freely of their time and talents to ensure the service operates successfully”.
For more information on Larne Foodbank, visit www.larne.foodbank.org.uk, call 074 4343 5404 or email firstname.lastname@example.org