Marcus Rashford has spoken of his pride after his free meals campaign was inundated with offers from restaurants and cafes to to feed vulnerable children over half term.
Local councils have also said they will set up schemes to feed thousands of disadvantaged children next week after MPs rejected a bid from Labour, inspired by Rashford, to extend free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021.
In a statement to BBC Newsnight, Rashford said: “Growing up we didn’t have a lot, but we always had the safety net of the community.
“That community was my family.
“When we stumbled, we were caught with open arms.
“Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell.
“I couldn’t be more proud to call myself British tonight.
“I am truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
“You want to talk about ‘celebrities’ and ‘superstars’, look no further than my Twitter feed and that’s exactly what you’ll find.”
Earlier he told his 3.7 million Twitter followers: "The superstars of this nation lie in local communities. Even after taking the biggest hits you have wrapped your arms around your community to catch children as they fell. I really can’t thank you enough, you’re amazing."
The footballer has been hailed a "hero of our times" after his campaign to provide free meals to children during the school holidays prompted an outpouring of support on social media.
The 22-year-old posted a string of tweets to his 3.6 million followers on Thursday night and throughout Friday, highlighting cafes, bars, restaurants and other organisations who had volunteered to help children going hungry.
MPs rejected a campaign, started by the Manchester United player, to offer free school meals for local children during half-term.
I’m signing off with a feeling a pride tonight. The superstars of this nation lie in local communities. Even after taking the biggest hits you have wrapped your arms around your community to catch children as they fell. I really can’t thank you enough, you’re amazing ♥️
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford)
A vote on the measures was backed by Labour and made its way to Parliament this week but it was defeated by 322 votes to 261.
West Midlands Tory mayor Andy Street said the Government should make “a clear decision” on whether it would or would not fund free school meals over holidays “well in advance”.
“It should not be a last-minute thing, this should be planned for, there should be a national approach on this,” he said, adding that the lack of planning meant there was now an “indiscriminate arrangement” across the country as to whether free school meals would be provided over the break."
And Rashford's campaign continues to gather steam, a Conservative MP is facing calls to apologise after he was was accused of “stigmatisation of working class families” in a tweet.
Ben Bradley, elected to become the first Tory MP for Mansfield in 2017, replied to a tweet in which another user described the free school meals programme as “£20 cash direct to a crack den and a brothel”.
In a post on Twitter which has since been removed, he wrote: “That’s what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did…”
Deputy leader of Labour Angela Rayner said: “A Conservative MP has said that free school meals are effectively a direct payment to brothels and drug dealers.
“Notwithstanding the fact that the vouchers in summer could only be used to purchase food, this stigmatisation of working class families is disgraceful and disgusting.”
Shadow children’s minister Tulip Siddiq has written to the co-chairwoman of the Conservative Party Amanda Milling.
She said: “Notwithstanding the fact that free school meal vouchers could only be redeemed in participating supermarkets for the purchase of food and groceries, I am sure that you will want to make clear that this kind of crass stigmatisation of children from poorer families is deeply damaging, and distance yourself from Mr Bradley’s misleading and troubling comments.
“In the meantime, I respectfully ask you to request an apology from Mr Bradley to the millions of children from lower income households who benefit from free school meal support.”
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Saturday, he said the tweet had been taken “totally taken out of context.
“I was merely making the point that there are kids who live in really chaotic situations, really difficult lives, where actually giving them an unrestricted voucher to spend on whatever isn’t helpful.
“The point I’m making is we need to wrap our arms as a society around those families. That’s why Government has given that money to local government because they are best placed working with social services, working with schools to be able to find those families, to target them, to help them in a more holistic way than meal vouchers.”
With reporting by PA