Exclusive: A Free School Meal Provider Has Agreed To 'Enhance' Food Parcels After Parents Received Stale Bread
A school catering firm has pledged to "enhance" the contents of their free school meal parcels after they were confronted with outrage from parents.
Caterlink Ltd said they had "immediately reviewed" the parcels after they were accused of delivering low-quality produce to families.
The free school meal provider, which is one of many that has come under fire after parents posted images of inadequate food parcels, said the "enhanced" boxes would be available in the coming days.
PoliticsHome had questioned the company over why they had delivered food parcels to families containing bread which was reportedly "stale" and days away from being out-of-date.
One parent, who had received a food box on Monday that was meant to last two weeks, said the parcel included a small bag of sliced cheese which had crumbled apart, and a loaf of bread that was due to go out-of-date by Thursday.
Responding to the claims, Neil Fuller, Managing Director at Caterlink, said: "Caterlink has been providing food parcels for pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) who have been unable to attend school throughout the pandemic. Food parcels are charged to schools at the same price as in-school FSMs which is contract dependent.
"All children require nutritious food to support their learning, whilst at school, or at home. We have listened to feedback from parents and pupils, and in some cases it is clear our parcels have fallen short."
He added: "We have immediately reviewed our current food parcels, enhancing the contents. These enhancements have been funded by our organisations’ charitable foundation, WSH Foundation.
"The enhanced parcels will be prepared by a site-based catering team and will be available for distribution in the coming days."
The Department for Education are believed to be scrambling to pull staff from other teams to tackle the problem after Downing Street said food parcels being offered by some private firms were "completely unacceptable".
Ministers have faced calls to urgently roll out its national free school meal voucher scheme following outrage over the handling of the free school meals policy.
It was reported ealrier that company bosses from Chartwell, another major firm involved in the scheme, were due to face a grilling from DfE officials over the failings.
But parents have said they have been left "ashamed and humiliated" by the ordeal.
"My daughter is getting to the age where she is really self-concious about all the usual kids things, but this has hit her really hard," one parent told PoliticsHome.
"The school has done a great job of making it impossible to tell who is getting free school meals during normal term time, but that is impossible now.
"She couldn't bear to come with me to pick up the parcel, and I felt ashamed and humiliated on the bus back."
They added: "Our household income has fallen drastically because I've lost my job during the coronavirus [pandemic] and my partner is on reduced hours. We do everything we can to make ends meet, and when we were getting the vouchers it was much better.
"When I was unpacking the stuff they gave us my partner burst into tears. Half a vegetable wrapped in cling film. It felt like we were being put on rations."
Meanwhile, others had said the food they have been provided with is not enough to adequately feed their children, with one parent being given a parcel from their school which only contained a loaf of bread, five slices of ham, five small pieces of cheese and five packaged "fruit cake slices".
The mother said she was unsure whether the parcel had been put together by the school or another firm but insisted it fell well short of the basic requirements set out by ministers.
"The bread is already hard and won't last very long it's already stale," she said.
"The local council said they can't help, no one monitors the food provided and that I would need to complain through school procedures which will take many weeks...children [will] effectively go hungry due to their greed."
Local authorities are overseeing the delivery of the items through catering firms, which in many cases are the usual firms that provide the same school’s dinners.
But the Department for Education said they were already in the process of contacting companies to remind them of the guidance and refused to rule out introducing financial penalties for those who had failed to deliver adequate parcels.