‘I look like I’m doing the donkey work, but it really isn’t just me... It’s a big team effort for sure,’ says Zane Powles
An assistant headteacher has come up with his own unique solution to ensuring his pupils still have access to free school meals – by walking more than five miles every day to deliver them by hand.
Zane Powles, who works at Western Primary School in Grimsby, northeast Lincolnshire, hauls huge rucksacks filled with packed school meals that weigh more than 18kg plus homework for at least 78 students each day.
The former soldier, who was part of the Grenadier Guards, also uses his daily lunch run to check on the welfare of the children he visits. He puts the packed lunch on the doorstep, knocks on the door and then waits on the pavement or in the garden until they are picked up.
Headteacher Kim Leach and another teacher take turns to bring an additional 25 lunches by car to families who live further afield on a 15-mile round trip every day.
Forty-one per cent of children at the Western Primary School are entitled to free school meals. According to End Child Poverty, 34 per cent of children are in poverty in Grimsby.
Mr Powles told The Independent the response to the daily lunch deliveries has been “brilliant and humbling” and many of the parents of the children the school delivers to have been grateful for the “adult contact”.
“The parents and children come to the window or the door to wave and say hello, some of the parents want to have a little chat – I think I’m the only adult contact they get to talk to some days,” he said.
“I’m usually quite a private person, so all the attention is kind of embarrassing, but we’re all just doing our job – the welfare of our students is our top priority and we’re just doing the best we can.
“It’s a big team effort for sure. I look like I’m doing the donkey work, but it really isn’t just me, the other teachers also drive to deliver meals to children who live further away, we call the families up every week to make sure they’re doing okay, we prepare and pack the lunches together every single day,” he added.
“Quite a lot of the families are struggling – they don’t want to drag their kids out to the shop, some of them are scared to leave their house. So I’m 100 per cent happy to help and be there for them.”
Ms Leach said school administrators devised a plan “almost immediately” after they received information that schools were to close amid the coronavirus lockdown, and quickly came up with the plan to deliver school meals.
“We’re legally obliged to feed children entitled to school meals and we wanted to get the food to them no matter what,” she told The Independent, adding that as the “fitness freak”, it was quickly decided Zane would be the one to deliver meals to children he could reach on foot.
“The families have been absolutely brilliant,” she said. “They’re at the door, at the windows, or they leave signs at the door, we’ve had cards and notes of thanks waiting for us. We literally knock and run, we don’t come into contact with them, but we didn’t expect the amazing response we’ve received.
“There is a lot of poverty in the area, and some families are struggling. I’ve had parents call me up telling me how worried they are about getting food, and we are a lifeline for some of them.”
Delivering the lunches personally also gives the teachers a chance to check in on the children and ensure they’re doing well while under lockdown.
“I’ll wait for them to come to the door and sometimes have a quick peek inside just to make sure everything is in order and the children are okay,” said Mr Powles.
He added: “I think it also gives them a sense of normalcy to see me every day. Of course, normal for them is coming to school every day, seeing me and their friends and other teachers – so having me come to see them might be reassuring.
“Our school tagline is ‘The School That Cares’, and we really do care about our children, we will do almost anything for them.”
As the coronavirus lockdown in the UK remains in place, schools have raised concerns over how children who are entitled to free meals can continue to access them.
In order to tackle the issue, the government announced a scheme to provide children who qualify for free school meals supermarket vouchers every week worth £15.
Schools can order the vouchers directly from supermarkets or shops to be emailed or printed and posted to families entitled to them.