SEATTLE, Washington — In the United Kingdom, 1.8 million children arrive at school hungry. Children are too hungry to concentrate on lessons or too hungry to participate in class. What may seem like a skipped meal to some, is proven to have long-lasting effects on children’s educational performance and future development. Magic Breakfast, a U.K. food charity, was founded with the goal to provide food-insecure children with healthy breakfasts to allow them the full benefits of education. As the issue of child hunger becomes increasingly relevant throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Magic Breakfast has responded by adapting its model to overcome lockdowns and by preparing the School Breakfast Bill.
Although the United Kingdom’s GDP is the world’s sixth-highest, child hunger is still a very real problem throughout the nation. Pre-pandemic, UNICEF estimated that 10% of children in the U.K. lived in households classified as severely insecure. Put simply, one in five households with children did not continuously have access to food.
Following redundancies and furloughs in 2020, the U.K. unemployment rate experienced its highest increase in over a decade. This greatly impacts food security and the number of food-insecure households is now predicted to have doubled. Loss of income, in addition to school canteen closures, has put further pressure on parents to provide their children with appropriate nourishment. So far, 2.2 million children aged 8 to 17 have been signed up for Free School Meals, with 42% being newly registered for the 2020 fall term.
The increased demand for free school meals has caught media and celebrity attention, with one of the most influential supporters being Marcus Rashford, a soccer player for Manchester United. Having himself experienced food insecurity as a child, he kickstarted the campaign in June 2020 that provided 1.3 million children with meals over summer. Now, Rashford is rallying support behind the School Breakfast Bill, a policy partially prepared by Magic Breakfast, that would require schools to provide breakfast clubs for disadvantaged students.
Founded in 2003, Magic Breakfast is a response to founder Carmel McConnell’s social activism in London schools. In 2000, McConnell began delivering breakfast to students after working with teachers who stated some pupils came to class too hungry to learn. Two decades on, Magic Breakfast is a charity that delivers meals for 48,400 students across 480 schools in Scotland and England.
Each weekday, Magic Breakfast provides nutritious options for students, such as bagels, porridge and cereal, at breakfast clubs. Surveys show that the healthy start to the day has impacted more than the food security of students. Attendance also improved, energy levels went up and social skills flourished. Teacher’s testimonials also praise the positive effects that breakfast clubs have on a child’s educational path. One teacher said, “One boy’s behavior was so bad, we were about to exclude him. Before I did, I thought, let’s just try asking him to breakfast club. It was magic. He settled. He was just hungry. So simple.”
In the 2018/2019 school year, Magic Breakfast’s capacity per school increased by 20% in part due to its hands-on model ensuring every hungry child is included in breakfast clubs. With the understanding that each community and school is different, Magic Breakfast sends partners to evaluate schools for the best way to reach students, whether that be through a traditional sit-down club or a “Grab-n-Go bagel bar.”
Likewise, Magic Breakfast’s many brand name partnerships, like Kelloggs and Quaker Oats, support the organization’s consistent growth through donations, volunteer schemes and the cultivation of investments.
The United Kingdom’s lockdown response to COVID-19 has proven one of the biggest challenges for Magic Breakfast’s goal of ending child hunger. The doubleheader of reaching children at home and helping families who suffered from the COVID-19 economic fallout forced Magic Breakfast to adapt. As soon as the lockdown began in March 2020, its model transformed into take-home food packs, which held enough food for 10 breakfasts. The organization organized deliveries to schools and locations where families could pick the food up, and for vulnerable families unable to reach schools, a team of volunteers personally delivered the packs.
By May 2020, Magic Breakfast expanded its partnership with Amazon U.K. to deliver packs to children’s doorsteps. With Amazon’s logistical planning, the charity continued its support throughout the school holidays and summer break. Over school closures, students from two-thirds of partner schools received breakfast packs, while 35,000 children received Magic Breakfast food during summer vacation.
One reality that Magic Breakfast understands is that it cannot do it alone, government support is needed to end classroom hunger completely. This led to England’s School Breakfast Bill, a proposal made by Magic Breakfast, Feeding Britain and MP Emma Lewell-Buck, that would boost school funding for breakfasts. In October 2020, the bill was presented to parliament and passed its first reading with the backing of 50 MPs.
Magic Breakfast continues to foster multiple levels of support around the campaign. It has gained coverage from The Guardian, advocacy from celebrities like James Cordon and received continuous commitments from corporate brands. In particular, Heinz’s campaign with Magic Breakfast called “Silence The Rumble”, has raised funds and awareness of the U.K. child hunger problem. To strengthen the School Breakfast Bill’s case, Heinz is also carrying out economic modeling that will demonstrate the return on investment and economic benefits of providing school breakfasts.