A DESPERATE mum was left distraught after receiving a "manky" free school meal package to feed her daughter during the lockdown.

Downing Street has admitted the contents of some are “completely unacceptable” and the Government is looking into the issue.

It came as it faced calls to urgently roll out its national free school meal voucher scheme after images shared on social media showed poor quality and low value packages sent to families during the lockdown.

Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford – who has been behind a drive to get free school meals to children who need them – called for the system to be fixed “quickly”.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

Meagre - a free school meal package received in Harwich, although it also included items of fruit and veg and a yogurt

One mum from Harwich was left distraught after receiving a "meagre" parcel.

The single mum said: "Our benefits had been stretched over the Christmas period so we were desperately waiting for the package - and when it arrived to say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

"I tried to hide my feelings from my daughter, but I was in tears. My daughter was quite upset too.

"There were just two potatoes and a very small apple, the bagels were stale and couldn't be eaten - they were rock solid.

"The bread had been frozen and defrosted for a few days already, the fruit was soft and the half of cucumber was manky.

"The headteacher said she was 'aghast' at my lack of gratitude, but I don't know how that was meant to be good enough to feed my daughter for five lunches - is that all they think of her?"

After reading about their plight on social media, kind locals stepped in and dropped off fresh food to their doorstep.

"It brought me to tears - there are some real angels in our community," she added.

"I would have made sure my daughter could eat, but it would have been very difficult and I would have gone without for a few days."

Harwich Labour councillor Ivan Henderson called on the Government to work with retailers to give children on free school meals a priority slot for delivery.

“It is incredible that after ten months this Government has still not found a solution to providing food to the most vulnerable in our society,” he said.

“Only last summer we wrote to Children's minister Vicky Ford about for failing vouchers scheme, where schools were still struggling to access the system.

“One mother and family was expected to survive for ten days on two potatoes, two carrots, two apples, three frubes, a small bag of pasta and tomato sauce, baked beans and cheese.

“The value of this totted up to £5.22 from Asda. The allocated amount was meant to be £30."

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

Squashed - questions have been raised over the quality of the food

“For the health and the sake of hundreds of thousands of families in England, we ask that this issue is resolved as soon as possible,” added Mr Henderson.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing it is clear that the contents of those food parcels are “completely unacceptable”.

“The Department for Education is looking into this urgently and the minister for children, Vicky Ford, is speaking to the company responsible and they will be making it clear that boxes like this should not be given to families.”

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

Concerned - Harwich coucnillor Ivan Henderson

Harwich and North Essex Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin tweeted that the school meals row was “not a failure of ministerial intent, but clearly a failure of procurement competence”.

“Why did the contract not specify what should be in the parcel? Failure of attention to detail. And it can and will be rectified now by ministers."

Essex County Council said it has launched another £90,000 funding pot for food banks and projects to support vulnerable families and individuals through lockdown.

Grants of up to £2,000 per project are available to help them provide food hampers or packages for families who are most in need.

The grants are being administered by Essex Association of Local Councils and will open on midday on January 14 for bids.

Louise McKinlay, lead member for children and families at Essex County Council said: “We remain committed to helping Essex residents who’ve been hit by the pandemic to put food on their tables and to keep their families warm and safe.

"This latest pot will once again provide vital funds for food banks and other community food projects that have been working so hard since last March, to continue to support local families.”