HALF-term holidays have proved difficult for many families during the coronavirus pandemic.

For parents whose children receive free school meals, it can be difficult for them to provide for their children at the best of times — but the pandemic has squeezed finances even further.

While recent school holidays have seen the Government step in after sustained pressure from the likes of footballer Marcus Rashford, families were left to rely on local council support this half-term.

Coun Lisa Brown, who founded Carlisle Community Help and the city’s affordable food hub, said the organisation had seen an increase in demand last week — but the number of people who require support had already been rising.

She said: “It was busier than usual. We were doing school lunch packages, too.

“We were handing out extra food to about 50 families a day, so 250 over the week — and they’re not small families either. We’re talking about two or three kids each family, so we’ve supported between 600 and 800 children.”

The group has been working with both the Carlisle Youth Zone and Carlisle United Community Sports Trust, which helped to deliver food parcels across the city.

Lisa added: “It was a really good collaboration.

“We’ve had a lot of people signup recently, we’ve been inundated. It’s jumped by about 150 people in the last week.

“We’ve got some new collection points and that sometimes raises awareness, but I think it’s just because we’re so far into this lockdown now.”

Carlisle is also served by Carlisle Foodbank — but manager Stephanie Hume said last week was no busier than usual.

However, she believes it was more down to the fact that everyone who needs support is already accessing the service.

She said: “Demand last week was actually the same as the previous week — there was no increase due to the fact it was half-term.

“I personally was expecting it to be a little bit busier with the kids being off and parents needing to feed the family. In half-term week, we had 87 adults and 47 children. We’re already very busy.”

In December, Cumbria County Council announced it would provide 12,000 free school meals over the Christmas holidays as well as the February half-term holiday. However, other organisations have stepped in to help families who are struggling, but do not meet the threshold for free meals.