Tej Kohli: My Appetite To End Holiday Hunger

An Optimistic Future?

There are many issues lying beneath the fabric of our society which the lockdown has brought to the surface and exposed. Not all are negative. Scientists have emerged as the silent heroes of our age. Their coordinated efforts to develop a vaccine have shown how we can work together to overcome major human challenges and to spread the benefits of new technological and scientific innovations. I have played my small part by donating $100,000 to the development of a genetic vaccine.

The Tej Kohli Foundation has repackaged and rebranded the experience of young people accepting a little extra help with its ‘YouCube’ concept at YouCubeBox.com

Holiday Hunger

But for all the goodness in our collective response, the Coronavirus has also exposed the many ways in which we were failing as a society. The lockdown has revealed how many young people are living their lives on the constant precipice of hunger. Great Britain could well be regarded as one of the kindest and most enlightened in the world. Yet many parents in the UK routinely experience difficulties in feeding their children. Coronavirus has simply made it more visible than it was before.

1.2 Million Children

In 2018 there were over 1.2 million children in England who were left without FSM during the school holidays. This figure encapsulates schools controlled by local authorities. 450,000 pupils who are in receipt of FSM are not under local authorities. London pupils represent just under 19% of all UK students who are eligible for FSM.

Image Source: Schools Week

Government or Communities?

In January 2020 the UK Department of Education stated that the government was investing £9 million for 50,000 disadvantaged children to have access to free activities and free meals during the 2020 summer holidays. But before Coronavirus it was estimated that the number of children living in food-insecure households during the 2020 summer holidays would exceed 3 million. The economic fallout of coronavirus might increase this number even further and moreover, the initiative does not apply to the remaining 7 weeks of school holiday that occur during the normal school year. There is no governmental legislation that requires local councils to provide free meals to students during the summer holidays, meaning that only councils who choose to support the program can help vulnerable children.

Sustainability

The challenge for these grassroots community organisations is one of sustainability beyond COVID-19. Many of the grassroots organisations rely on the goodwill of local food suppliers and volunteers to pack and deliver food, many of whose lives will ‘return to normal’ once that Coronavirus recedes and their places of work re-open. Many have based themselves in the kitchens of hotels or restaurants that will hope to soon reopen as commercial premises. Volunteered delivery vans and drivers may soon have to return to work too.

Tej Kolhi Foundation volunteers prepare emergency food packages in Hounslow, London.
The Tej Kohli Foundation is feeding 300 families with children each week in Hounslow, London.

Vital Nutrition

This is not a solution that I postulate lightly. If our projects with the Salvation Army and other community projects in London go well, then the Tej Kohli Foundation hopes to expand these initiatives to support local grassroots initiatives in other areas of the UK too. Fifteen years ago, the Foundation opened its ‘FundaKohli’ free canteens in Costa Rica to provide after-school meals to children in underserved communities. In the years since, FundaKohli has served hundreds of thousands of meals, and we have experienced first-hand the huge impact that a seemingly small intervention such as making sure a child can reliably fill their stomach every day without worry, can have.

Children eat for free daily at ‘FundaKohli’ canteens provided by the Tej Kolhi Foundation in Costa Rica.

Food Banks

Holiday hunger becomes visible at food banks each summer as families lose their access to FSM for their children. In 2018 The Trussell Trust urged families to donate more food to their local food bank as new figures showed that over 87,000 food parcels were sent out to children during the summer holidays, which was a 20% increase compared to the same holiday period in 2017. Although many food banks are supporting the eligible children for FSM during school holiday, this cannot be allowed to become a ‘normalised’ form of support. To compel young people to becoming generic and ‘helpless’ recipients of food bank charity is a very quick way to quash their hopes and aspirations before their life has even started. Moreover many food banks have been forced to shut due to their lack of resources.

Image Source: TES

Ending Holiday Hunger

There is no ‘holiday hunger’ policy for the UK which would ensure that all local authorities provide free meals and activities for underprivileged children. Moreover, there is a lack of consistent communication and coordination between schools and local organisations. But the good news is that schools have an excellent understanding of their pupils and are well-placed to be able to identify the best ways to deliver help to those in need.

Leading From The Front

My Tej Kohli Foundation is going to lead from the front to support these grassroots organisations in adapting to eliminate holiday hunger in their communities in a financially sustainable way. To achieve this, the Foundation will focus on three key activities in the United Kingdom:

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Tej Kohli

Tej Kohli

Tej Kohli is a technologist and investor who is best known for curing blindness in the developing world as co-founder of the Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation