CHILDREN will be able to claim £15-worth of pre-paid food from today, as Southend Council ramps up support for struggling families.

Southend parents, whose children are eligible for free school meals, have been urged to come forward and claim their card which can be used to buy food throughout the week-long half term.

The authority is also pulling out all the stops to make sure no child in the borough goes hungry this winter, and is investigating a scheme to provide free school meals to those who are eligible over the Christmas holiday.

It comes after a campaign, spearheaded by Manchester United player Marcus Rashford MBE, was last week voted down by all but five Conservative MPs.

The Labour motion - which called for the free meals scheme to be extended over school holidays until Easter 2021, was defeated by 261 votes to 322.

In response Southend Council has also pledged investigate the cost and practicality of a free school meal scheme for the Christmas period - despite themselves being hit with the financial hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The authority is also looking to call together a community summit, in a bid to bring together the entire borough to make sure no child is left with their tummies rumbling and their plates empty.

Anne Jones, cabinet member for children and learning, said: “We are deeply disappointed by the government’s decision not to fund a nationwide free schools meal programme.

“As a council we have seen our budget hit by the consequences of Covid, but we still intend to act to make sure no child goes hungry in Southend.

“We are investigating the cost and practicality of a council-backed scheme to provide free school meals to eligible children over the Christmas holiday.

“Additionally, we are working to convene a summit of food banks and other charities to make sure that there are no gaps in provision.”

Determined to keep giving traditions like any other in full swing, Southend Council have continued their annual pledge to host what this year will be Southend’s seventh Toy Drive - a project set up to gift Christmas presents to vulnerable children who may not have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas like most.

Gifts from the Toy Drive will be distributed to children’s centres, food banks, refuges and children’s parties set up by local charities.

Trevor Harp, cabinet member for health and adult social care, added: “The economic consequences of Covid mean that this is going to be a Christmas like no other, with the potential for many families to be pushed in to poverty.

“Despite the government’s refusal to act, we have been deeply moved by the enthusiasm shown by charities and by ordinary residents to make sure that no child goes without.

“We have already made arrangements to make sure that the council’s annual Toy Drive still goes ahead, to bring festive cheer where we can.

“Whilst currently Southend remains in the medium tier and so not subject to the more stringent regulations in place in other parts of the country, we simply do not know what the situation at Christmas will be, and must be prepared for any eventuality.”

Email or call 01702 215841 from 9am today to request a £15 pre-paid card per eligible child.

Lines will be open Monday to Friday.