Restaurants and cafes across the UK rallied around Marcus Rashford on Friday to offer free meals to families this half term.
In a widespread display of compassion, businesses and councils up and down the country have offered to feed hungry children over next week’s half term.
Footballer Rashford had demanded the Government extend the scheme to cover school holidays - but it refused and on Thursday MPs voted against extending the scheme during the holiday 322 votes to 261.
Rashford, who is spearheading a campaign to end child food poverty, said he was “blown away” by so many people stepping up to fill the voucher scheme during half term, saying: “This is the England I know”.
The England star shared posts from businesses across the UK who have announced they will provide free meals for those who need them, and urged people to add the hashtag #endchildfoodpoverty to their tweets so he could promote them.
And local councils soon followed suit, with Birmingham City Council announcing it wil supply food vouchers for 61,000 pupils.
Tory-run Staffordshire and Kensington and Chelsea have pledged to do the same.
They include pubs, cafes, restaurants and tapas bars, as well as sandwich bars and coffee shops and also local councils, with offers ranging from hot meals to packed lunches, food parcels and sandwiches and treats.
Just a few highlighted by Rashford include: Baker’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant in Bolton, Taste Sandwich Bar in Liverpool, Pabna Restaurant in Leek, Staffordshire, Whitley Bait Sandwich and Coffee Bar in Whitley Bay, Astoria Bar and Restaurant in Urmston, Manchester and Bowring Park Cafe in Shropshire.
Many of the establishments had shared their disappointment at the government’s decision through social media posts, and urged parents or carers who would struggle without the free school meal scheme to get in touch.
They also reminded people that any requests would be handled with discretion and they could get in touch privately.
Ruhel Pabna, media spokesman for Pabna Restaurant in Leek, told Yahoo News UK: “At Pabna we are a family restaurant run by a family of father and four sons. When we employ our staff we treat them like our own family, therefore the customers become our family too.
“We believe we are fortunate in this pandemic, and have been brought up in a manner where we should help others feel privileged if they already aren’t.
“We want to make sure nobody sleeps sad or hungry without food, therefore we feel it’s important to make sure everyone has a hot dinner at night.
“Marcus Rashford highlighting the issues shows we are not individuals in this world, we are a family as one. And in times like this we must stick as one.”
Angela Baker, owner of Baker’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant in Egerton, Bolton, told Yahoo they had not only received requests for help, but had been inundated with offers of donations, prompting them to set up a JustGiving page which surpassed its £1,000 target in just 12 hours.
She said: “I have had my business for four years and I was a teacher before that. I taught in deprived areas and in affluent areas and even in affluent areas there were families who were struggling.
“This is a cause close to our hearts and I’m 100% behind Marcus’ campaign because I know it happens.
“The fact that his name is behind it has made it blow up - we’ve had celebrities retweeting it, people all over the country supporting us. He is raising awareness all over the country - it’s outstanding.”
Tony Dunn, 40, owns the Rhubarb Shed Café in Sheffield, South Yorks.. He said it was “unconscionable” to leave children hungry and was inspired by Rashford’s mission.
The dad-of-three said it was paramount that communities came together as families have been struggling through the pandemic through “no fault of their own”. His 60-seater café will offer children an option of a sandwich, cupcake or hot chocolate next Thursday and Dunn said they will keep serving food until they run out.
Dunn, who has owned the café for ten years, said: “When I saw that the MPs voted against it I thought it was awful.
“Children are completely innocent and they should never go hungry. It's unconscionable to let something like this happen.”
He added: “It’s sad that it took Rashford going through all of this for some change to happen but we must see the positives.
Dunn, who runs the café with his wife Paula, 34, said he’s not a political person but that children going hungry “isn’t political”.
He said: “My wife and I have been working here for ten years and we’re the least political people you’ll ever find.
“But children going hungry isn’t political. It’s something that just shouldn’t happen.”
Fiona Crump, from Castle Beach Cafe in Falmouth, said they had decided to offer help because they were left so angry by the government’s decision not to help “seriously struggling” families.
She told Yahoo News: “We appreciate that there is ‘no magic money tree’ but this is all about priorities.
“We will be offering all children who normally have free school meals a free packed lunch. It’s a small gesture of thanks to the community that has supported my small cafe all summer.”
She joined in praise for Rashford, saying he was keeping the issue at the forefront of people’s minds at a national level.
“When people have a platform, as he does, it’s fantastic to see it being used in such a positive way,” she added.
Rashford, who was awarded an MBE for his efforts in helping secure free meals for vulnerable children during the coronavirus pandemic, vowed to keep campaigning to extend free school meals over the holidays after MPs voted against the measure earlier this week.
The Manchester United forward told politicians to “stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers” and called on people to “unite” to protect the most vulnerable children, adding: “For as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.”
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