A CAMPAIGN has been launched to combat “holiday hunger” following a surge in food poverty.

The East of England Co-op is encouraging customers to donate items to foodbanks, including Braintree and Halstead, Clacton, Colchester, Manningtree, Walton and Harwich foodbanks, as well as Maldon Food Pantry and Dengie Food Pantry.

The six-week drive is designed to support foodbanks which have seen a massive increase in demand due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.

It will help families stave off so-called holiday hunger and run over the school holidays.

Research by Feeding Britain suggests up to three million children are at risk of going hungry during the summer holidays.

East of England Co-op joint chief executive Niall O’Keeffe said: “Despite the Government’s announcement that it will extend the free school meal voucher scheme over the summer holidays, it’s very likely that demand for the essential services provided by foodbanks will continue to accelerate.

“We know that foodbanks in our region have struggled to cope with a perfect storm of demand rising dramatically at the same time as having to deal with massive logistical challenges during the height of the pandemic.

“Now they face a potential tsunami of demand from local families who are unable to put food on the table due to the dire economic situation caused by this crisis. This is likely to be a prolonged period of risk for the most vulnerable people in our society.

“It’s only right that, as a local community retailer, we continue to do as much as possible to support our local foodbanks in preventing the immediate threat of holiday hunger while helping them to prepare for an uncertain future.

“We hope that everyone will get behind our summer drive and donate to ensure that children and families don’t go without during this time of greatest need.”

Each week throughout the summer campaign, the Co-op’s community team will be in touch with 24 foodbanks supported across the region to assess what they need – from specific food items to toiletries to help with volunteering.

There will be in-store and community activities, supported by a social media campaign encouraging shoppers to make donations which will be delivered to foodbanks where help is needed most.

Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, the East of England Co-op has donated £77,500 to foodbanks to support families in food poverty under an emergency package of support launched to help community groups through the pandemic.