When the children sit in class on an empty stomach at school…

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Rotterdam – No one can stand that there are children in Rotterdam’s school classes with empty stomachs. That is why many schools in our city use a national subsidy which they can spend on food as they see fit. So all children get breakfast or lunch, even the children who don’t get anything from home. It is an urgent need. But that subsidy threatens to disappear at the end of this month…

By Emile van de Velde

Take Boterhamsters, for example, who were paid from the national grant pool in recent months. “We think it’s a great project. I think in our case about a quarter of the children take something out of the fridge,” says Liesbeth Ausems, a teacher at the Koningin Wilhelminaschool in Crooswijk. That school is one of the fifteen schools in Rotterdam participating in Boterhamsters A fridge is filled with packed lunches every day.

Ausems continues. “Because children can grab something from the fridge themselves, it has something non-committal. There is, of course, much shame about poverty at home, and this way it is less emphatic. Kids can just grab something, share it together, can choose between vegetarian or halal. And it always contains food from the slice of five, with a piece of fruit or nuts. Of course, I also keep an eye on it myself, if I know that a child from home is not getting much, or I see that they only have a piece of cucumber in the tin, I make sure they get something from the fridge. There are probably every day, I estimate that about a quarter of the children use it. And if there is anything left over, it will be collected again.”

“Whatever is left goes to our crisis catering shop on Goudse Rijweg,” says Pip Wong of Boterhamsters. Boterhamsters is performed by the people of Hotspot Hutsput, once known for the social meals in the city, and who in recent years are active in catering for people who have no money for food. “Coincidentally, my colleague was at a meeting in the autumn where someone from a school told me about a grant that the government’s youth education fund had available to pay for breakfast and lunch for primary school children. The problem for that school was that the teachers don’t have time to arrange something like that. Well, for us it’s a piece of cake. We receive food that just doesn’t fit into the supermarket system and we have the volunteers and the cars to take it to schools. During the corona period, we provided crisis catering at 140 addresses, so of course we can also do this. We send a receipt to the schools for food, transport costs and a small voluntary supplement. They pay for that with the national subsidy scheme.”

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Boterhamster’s volunteers fill lunch boxes that they take to schools.

This national scheme runs through the Youth Education Fund. The schools can use the grant in all possible ways to ensure that no child goes to class on an empty stomach. In Rotterdam there are 63. Sometimes the teachers shop and put it in a cupboard, sometimes they make the sandwiches themselves, sometimes parents do it, often shop owners from the neighborhood also participate. Or an organization is paid to deliver the food. Just like with sandwich hamsters. Boterhamsters is just one of the projects from the €5 million pool that was available.

Was yes. Because the money is almost gone. The Youth Education Fund scheme only applies until 31 January. Will there still be food in all those schools after that? It remains to be seen. The government intends to cross the bridge with an amount of 100 million euros, money that will also be used for youth education. “It’s not quite finished yet,” says Isabelle Zielinski from the Youth Education Fund. “We are negotiating now. It looks positive, but I dare not assume it yet. Hopefully there will be good news next week.”

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