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Tackling holiday hunger and mental health one Munch Box at a time


Poplar HARCA and The Kidz Cafe are working together during the pandemic to provide free meals to children in Tower Hamlets.

With schools now closed for summer after a highly unusual school year, the partnership is expanding.  Spotlight, Poplar HARCA’s youth service, will be providing 70 free meals, four days a week, to young people alongside its usual summer holiday programme to tackle holiday hunger.

The programme, also known as Munch Box, ensures that young people aged 11 – 19 in Tower Hamlets, continue to receive meals and much needed support during the school holidays.  Meals are available for delivery, thanks to programme volunteers. Holiday hunger is now on the forefront of politician’s agendas, thanks to footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals throughout the summer.

Tower Hamlets is one of the highest recipients of Government funded free school meals, with 57% of the borough’s young people identified as living in poverty, according to the Tower Hamlets Borough Equality Assessment. 33% of primary aged children receive free school meals compared to the national average of 14%.  The Kidz Cafe will provide free and healthy lunches, along with recipe cards in each meal to encourage healthy eating.

“For many at-risk children, the food we provide is the only meal they will receive that day which is why we endeavour to make our meals not just tasty and healthy but also filled with love! We strive to use high quality fresh ingredients, and despite our meals being mostly vegetarian or vegan, the children never miss meat and enjoy discovering new food. We are on a mission to make better food for better people for a better world, starting at the beginning with our kids. We are excited to expand our relationship with Spotlight making 70 meals a day for The Munch Box youth programme, and we’ve developed a new menu to include sweet potato, enchiladas and roast butternut squash mac and cheese.” Julian Bowyer, founder of The Kidz Cafe.

The programme also offers face to face support to young people who may be feeling isolated. The pandemic has highlighted an increase in mental health support needs for young people.

“It’s important to recognise that young people need support and their mental health needs must be taken into consideration during this challenging time. That’s why we are pleased to offer a comprehensive programme in a safe space.  It will reduce isolation, build healthy relationships and improve their mental health.  It’s important they know they are not alone and support is here for them”.  Daniel Rose, Director, Spotlight

Young Minds, a charity supporting children and young people’s mental health highlighted in its Covid Summer 2020 Survey that, ‘Young people with mental health needs are under increasing pressure and struggling to get the right support as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.  80% of young people surveyed agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse’.

Spotlight’s wider summer programme gives young people access to youth workers who can refer them to specialist services such as Health Spot, (an online GP service for young people), Docklands Outreach (mental health support) and Compass Safe East  (drugs, alcohol and sexual health support). It also offers an engaging suite of online and socially distanced in house programmes, keeping young people motivated through creative, active and inspirational activities.

Since the pandemic, Spotlight has engaged over 835 young people in eight weeks.

The programme is open to all young people, 11 – 19, on a first come, first serve basis.

Participants are asked to sign up to the free Spotlight youth service.

Munch Box meals are offered at the following times and locations: 

  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 1-3pm
  • Lansbury Spotlight – Langdon Park, 30 Hay Currie St, London E14 6GN
  • Thursdays and Fridays from 1 – 3pm
  • Mile End Spotlight – St Paul’s Way Community Centre, 83 St Paul’s Way, E3 4AJ

To book: email, or call 0203 0111 333.

“For many at-risk children, the food we provide is the only meal they will receive that day which is why we endeavour to make our meals not just tasty and healthy but also filled with love!"

Julian Bowyer, Founder of The Kidz Cafe