Funding to allow schools to provide thousands of nutritious meals to disadvantaged students will continue during the extended school closures.
With approximately 250,000 children receiving food through school meals programmes, updated guidelines have been issued on running the scheme amid the extended Covid-19 school closures.
This will ensure that nutritious food gets to thousands of children who need it the most, according to the Department of Education.
The announcement follows concerns raised by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) about the needs of the most disadvantaged students in the context of schools remaining shut until at least late April.
“The INTO welcomes this practical solution which will help to provide some much-needed certainty for our most vulnerable pupils,” said John Boyle, the INTO general secretary.
“Our members are deeply concerned about the plight of these pupils and their families at this time.”
Many Deis schools have already been delivering food packages, books, toys, and other resources to families in need and to children living in temporary accommodation.
One of Ireland’s largest school meal providers Freshtoday has been preparing for the delivery of emergency provisions.
Each child availing of the scheme will be entitled to a weekly provision of groceries, delivered to their school for collection, said chief executive Ray Nangle.
“We have had calls from schools across the country desperately seeking food for students in dire need,” he said.
“We will be working tirelessly to ensure that a weeks’ supply of goods will be delivered to Deis schools for distribution.
"This will alleviate not only financial difficulties, but also help in restricting shopping times and community exposure.”
The School Meals Programme is operated by the Department of Education, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
Principals will be asked to work with Tusla Education Support Service to ensure that the children and families most in need are supported.
Schools have been advised that if their current provider is unavailable, they can look at other options, such as a local charity.
Schools are also allowed to continue the service during the Easter holidays and have been asked to consider providing weekly boxes of non-perishable, nutritious goods.