While the Government’s catering contractor Chartwells has been widely criticised for providing “inadequate” food boxes to vulnerable families in receipt of free school meals, volunteers and business owners unable to trade during lockdown have been putting together generous packages. 

It shows distributing nutritious and generous food parcels for £15 per child is possible, even without the buying power and large-scale supplier connections enjoyed by larger companies. 

Michael Jebelli, who owns Vertigo in Manchester, has been sending out food boxes to four Manchester schools since April 2020. 

His deliveries go out either weekly or fortnightly and always contain fruit and vegetables, bread, pasta, rice, butter, and milk. In some cases, the £30 two-weekly boxes also come with meat such as beef mince and chicken breasts, as well as snacks and chocolate.

Mr Jebelli said to i: “Schools tell us what families need – it’s always more fresh produce rather than tinned goods.

Fresh produce

“Since April, we’ve shifted about 1,000 boxes. They’re all free. We try to ensure they’re different each week. We work with suppliers and restaurants to source ingredients.”

Mr Jebelli said he started a veg box service in the first lockdown, and uses some of the profits to help fund the free parcels given to vulnerable families. 

Schools have also paid for produce and delivery using the funds they have been allocated by the Government, as well as money that would have normally gone to supply teachers while open.

Mr Jabelli puts together generous food parcels (Photo: Micheal Jabelli)

The restaurant owner said he thinks Chartwells should have been doing much better: “There’s no justification for it.

“Chartwells has huge purchasing power and so they’ll pay less for food than we do, for example. 

“I’ve seen the food parcels on social media and I think they’re degrading. Imagine giving them to children and saying, ‘That’s what you’re worth’.”

Free breakfast offer

Some authorities, such as Leeds Council, have also chosen to use their own catering brands instead of the private contractor Chartwells. 

Following Tuesday’s uproar, Chartwells said: “We have had time to investigate the picture circulated on Twitter. For clarity this shows five days of free school lunches (not 10 days) and the charge for food, packing and distribution was actually £10.50 and not £30 as suggested. However, in our efforts to provide thousands of food parcels a week at extremely short notice we are very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance.

“Our 10-day hampers typically include a wide variety of nutritious food items to support the provision of lunches for children.”

The firm also said it would be providing free breakfasts for children alongside its lunch-time food boxes.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on Wednesday criticised by the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for condemning the free school meal offerings that were found to have been delivered to families as “disgraceful”, despite these packages appearing to follow Government guidelines.


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