Unsung Heroes: The catering staff making hundreds of hot meals a day for children, keyworkers and vulnerable adults

They make hundreds of hot meals a day and thousands of packed lunches a week – helping to feed children, keyworkers and vulnerable adults during the coronavirus pandemic.

In total, around 400 cooks, catering assistants and meals at home delivery drivers are working shifts to prepare, cook and deliver meals, with many having given up their Easter holidays to ensure the vital service could continue throughout the break.

In the county borough’s six emergency childcare hubs, staff are producing breakfasts, hot lunches and sandwiches for the children of keyworkers while also preparing packed lunches for pupils eligible for free school meals.

Meanwhile, another team of catering staff are cooking hot meals for some of the most vulnerable adults in the county borough with many being delivered by the meals at home team and some also provided at the Bridgend Resource Centre.

Clare Squire, the cook in charge at Brynmenyn Primary which is one of the six emergency childcare hubs, said:

“We are providing hot meals for the children of frontline workers to ensure they can still work as normal and do the marvellous jobs they’re doing.

“We provide breakfast, lunch and tea for about 40 children – they are children from schools in the Garw Valley, Ogmore Valley and the surrounding area as well.

“Our start times in the kitchen are staggered to make sure there’s not too many of us in at any one time and the children also come in for their food at different times to ensure social distancing.

“Meatballs with pasta and vegetables is probably the children’s favourite lunch at the moment, and pizza.

“I love everything about my job, the current challenges we’re facing are a small price to pay to be able to provide a safe environment for the children of keyworkers and provide them with hot, nutritious meals – it enables their parents to continue to provide such a good service for people.”

Caroline David, the cook in charge at the Pencoed hub, is helping to prepare breakfast, lunch and tea for between 20 and 40 children a day, and packed lunches for up to 120 children a day.

She said:

“Food is a fundamental part of the day for children.

“For teaching staff and children, food seems to be their happy time of the day, when they’re all excited, our puddings with custard are particularly popular.

“The challenges at the moment are around keeping staff safe, sorting produce and keeping morale up – obviously things are tough but we are managing.

“Staff are split into teams, we normally have the Easter holidays off but we offered to work, it’s part of getting through it all together.”

Leanne Rees-Sheppard is the cook in charge at Bryntirion Comprehensive School in kitchen two where’s she’s helping to put together fresh sandwiches and assembling packed lunches for more than 100 children.

She said:

“Most of them are collected by taxis and distributed around the Cefn Glas and Bryntirion area – we also have children or their parents coming to the school themselves to collect their packed lunches.

“We’re split into teams and we’ve got lots of separate work spaces for staff to be able to work at a distance from each other.

“Feeding children eligible for free school meals is really important – it’s important for them to know they will still get their lunch, a one constant in changing circumstances.”

The meals at home service includes around six catering staff and eight delivery drivers – on a three-week rolling menu, clients can chose two courses to be delivered. The subsidised service helps many to remain independent in their own homes.

The service is currently delivering around 80 meals a day – ranging from roast pork, stuffing and gravy to lasagne and beef casserole. Clients can also order a sandwich and cake for tea to be delivered at the same time.

Debra Reynolds has been a delivery driver for the service for 20 years.

She said:

“We have seen an increase in meals being ordered – some existing clients have requested more days and we have new clients as families are not able to get to them.

“We might be the only people some of them see in a day, we have a little chat and if there’s anything we are concerned about we can feed back to their family or social worker.

“Social distancing is a challenge when we go to people’s homes as we still have to protect them – some meals can be delivered to the doorstep to minimise risk but some clients need their food to be cut up and put in front of them.

“I love it – I love hearing some of the stories from years gone by.”

Finally, catering staff are also providing meals for around 20 vulnerable adults at the Bridgend Resource Centre.

The Leader, Cllr Huw David, said: “Our catering staff are providing an incredibly important service to children and vulnerable people across Bridgend county borough.

“It is testimony to their professionalism, care and commitment that they continue to deliver these services at such a challenging time.”