Thoughts from Rachael Anderson, Head of Schools at Magic Breakfast

We began working with Magic Breakfast in 2015, supporting them in their goal of ending hunger as a barrier to education in the UK. Over the years, we’ve developed lasting and loyal friendships with the incredible team and their partner schools. This month, we celebrate reaching the milestone of donating 10 million meals to hungry children in partnership with Magic Breakfast and Akshaya Patra. Magic Breakfast’s Head of Schools, Rachael Anderson, has kindly taken the time to reflect on the last six years of our work together, as well as sharing her thoughts on the profound impact the past twelve months have had.

Sometimes when we walk into a school for the first time, the feeling of disadvantage is palpable: you feel a strong emotional reaction, it hits you hard.  The children are small for their age, thin, pale, tired looking, listless sometimes. The stories of the school leaders are often familiar ones - families struggling to cover basic needs such as clothes, shoes, laundry, heating and food, and children at the sharp end, often arriving at school late, hungry and distracted by worry, in no state to even begin to learn.

We are never in any doubt as to what Magic Breakfast support means - to the children or to the school staff. I vividly remember observing a boy in a breakfast club eat with such ferocity that it was clear he hadn't eaten for a long time.  Most schools tell us about children they believe may barely eat between school lunch and school breakfast the next day. We have had Headteachers cry when we tell them that we can send food to their school every week, enough to feed all their children at risk of hunger. “All of them?” they ask incredulously, “We can have breakfast for all the school, have it in every classroom?”  Yes, we say, every child who needs it, and we want you to do it without barrier or stigma, so there’s never any shame in being hungry. Even if that’s all the children.

As we only work in schools in areas of high disadvantage, that can mean hundreds of children having breakfast in a school.  With over 1000 schools now being supported by Magic Breakfast, the numbers add up and we now offer breakfast to around 170,000 children every school day. And the numbers keep on growing: before the pandemic, there had been a steady rise in child poverty, however, the pandemic effect has caused an additional sharp spike in need, with an estimated 2.3 million children now living in food insecure households.

The rising number of hungry children was not our only worry in the pandemic. Our biggest challenge came with school partial closures: what could we do when the children were hungry but not going to school? It needed a magic touch; in a matter of weeks, we had reworked our breakfast offer and devised a new distribution model, putting together ‘take home packs’ including porridge sachets, cereal, bagels, beans and milk vouchers. Some schools arranged for socially distanced collection by parents, others released staff to deliver breakfast to the child’s home, making welfare checks much easier and more welcome. Later, we added in an even easier option for the overburdened schools; thanks to the support of Amazon, we were able to deliver fortnightly breakfast packs direct to the family homes.

We couldn’t do all of this on our own of course. Our supporters and partners are the ones who make the magic possible. Six years ago, Dishoom became a very special friend of the charity, and the contribution grew and grew. Dishoom have donated an absolutely stunning 10 million meals (and counting!) to hungry children in the UK and India via Magic Breakfast and Akshaya Patra. So many full tummies and so many hours of lost learning reclaimed!

Even more amazing is the continuation of Dishoom’s support during the pandemic, when their business has been so badly hit. By extending their ‘meal for a meal’ pledge to every meal served via their new delivery service and each at-home meal kit sold, they’ve continued to provide much-needed support, even whilst the restaurants have been closed.  

Magic Breakfast’s work is all about partnership. We couldn’t do what we do without the incredible staff in our partner schools, and we couldn’t do it without lifelong friends like Dishoom who not only share our mission to fill hungry tummies, but also to inspire young minds about their own potential. Each year (in normal times), Dishoom open their restaurant doors to host children from our partner schools for a very special breakfast, learning activities and cookery classes with the Dishoom team – it’s an experience they will never forget and one that teaches them about the importance of good food.

This isn’t just about food however – the knock-on effects are transformative. On starting Magic Breakfast support, almost every school discovers children it had no idea were hungry. Such as the two boys in a Sheffield school who the Headteacher said were challenging, disrupting their class with poor behaviour. When breakfast started, the boys’ behaviour improved literally overnight. A full tummy of the right food unlocked a morning of learning for those boys - and the whole class could learn better, without the disruption. Never underestimate the power of an education, and never underestimate the ripple effect that starts with a single bowl of porridge. Multiply that by ten million, and that really is magic.

To find out more about the incredible work Magic Breakfast do please see: https://www.magicbreakfast.com

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