Unique programme provides 3,000 free meals every week for children

By Maurice Garvey

A UNIQUE after-schools programme in Ballyfermot provides up to 3,000 free meals per week to children.

The initiative at St Ultan’s in Cherry Orchard, forms part of a proactive response in tackling issues facing a disadvantaged community.

St Ultans 03 May 2016 

Due to the success of the after-schools programme, it is even being touted as a model for other schools around the country to follow.

The programme was initially started in the 1990s by community worker Marian Taggart – before St Ultan’s opened in 2006.

John Scanlon, Finance, Funding and Community Services Manager with St Ultan’s after-school service, says Ms Taggart started the programme at a house in Cherry Orchard.

John said: “Mary, along with Fr Sean O’Cuimh and the community, pushed strongly to ensure a campus was built in the area. We have a nursery, pre-school, primary school and after-school at St Ultan’s, and we feed every child in the building.

“The campus believes in education as a policy to break the cycle of poverty. The kitchen is open 48 weeks per year, from 8.30am to 6.30pm. All of the food is homemade, we employ local staff, and we have healthy options for kids, with variety in bacon, cabbage, chicken curry, rice, rotating the menu on a three-week cycle.”

The free meals service – subsidised by the schools meals grant – isn’t the first time St Ultan’s has proved inspirational in the sphere of education and social development.

Music programmes at the school for both parents and students, have struck a chord with education authorities nationwide, while after-school homework clubs are helping youngsters develop their skills as the progress in secondary school.

“Our first former student completed the Leaving Cert last year,” said John.

Latest figures show the school has grown exponentially from 56 pupils in 2006 to over 400 in 2014, with an additional 30 teachers and 16 SNAs joining the ranks over the last decade.

Last year, St Ultan’s received permission to construct an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) extension.

In the plans, St Ultan’s Board of Management stated it is not a “standard type school” but rather a “campus for education across the spectrum of this disadvantaged community.”

The after-care programme is a “wrap around service which links up with the school”, according to John.

Other after-schools programmes support kids who have difficulties with curriculum, are transitioning into secondary school, or kids aged up to five in the nursery.

The recession led to funding cuts of well over 30 per cent, but John says the programme continues to provide the same level of service, if not more.

John continued: “In 2009, it cost €1m to run the service, staff, and labour. Up to 90 per cent of it was State-funded (mostly Department of Children), but that is now down to 60 per cent. It is labour intensive, but we are still providing the same level of service on a smaller budget.”

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