Marcus Rashford ‘blown away’ by grassroots pledges to feed kids

Businesses support footballer’s campaign after politicians refused to extend provision of free school meals through summer.

Group A - England v Bulgaria - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - September 7, 2019 England''s Marcus Rashford applauds the fans after the match Action Images via Reuters/Tony O''Brien/File Photo
As Rashford continued his fight, he was joined by local businesses offering everything from beans on toast to chicken nuggets and fruits [File: Tony O'Brien/Reuters]

Restaurants, cafes and even some local governments across England have mounted a grassroots effort inspired by football star Marcus Rashford to feed students during the upcoming school break.

Pledges to provide free lunches started rolling in after the Manchester United striker’s bid to extend food vouchers over school holidays until Easter was voted down in the House of Commons.

The 22-year-old promised to continue his fight and was joined by local businesses offering everything from beans on toast to chicken nuggets and fruits.

“Blown away by news of local businesses stepping up to fill the voucher scheme deficit during the October half term. Selflessness, kindness, togetherness, this is the England I know,” Rashford wrote on Twitter late on Thursday, adding an emoji of the English flag.

On Friday, the England international fired off a stream of Twitter posts marking the locations of businesses offering their support, and he embedded their social media messages, which urged parents not to feel ashamed to seek help. Many offered to keep requests confidential.

Khandoker, an Indian restaurant about eight kilometres (five miles) from Old Trafford, said parents can send a direct message on Twitter.

“We don’t want any child to go to bed hungry in Manchester. Voting against free school meals for kids in poverty is inhumane. If there are any parents struggling to feed (their) kids don’t be ashamed. DM us we will always be happy to put together a hot meal,” the restaurant wrote.

In June, Rashford successfully lobbied British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to extend free school meals through the summer. But on Wednesday, a Labour Party motion backed by the player to extend it again was rejected largely along party lines.

More than 1.4 million children benefit from free school meals, according to the Labour Party. English schools are on break next week.

Rashford said many families are struggling because of job losses related to the coronavirus pandemic. The United Kingdom is among the worst-hit European countries, with almost 44,000 confirmed deaths.

The football star said he is passionate about the issue because his family relied on free school meals and food banks while growing up in the Manchester area.

Farm Fresh UK in Nottingham said it will provide lunches over the break consisting of a cheese cob or vegan sausage roll and a carton of apple or orange juice. Minikin Paint a Pot Art Cafe in Manchester said it will offer a hot baked potato with beans, fruit, snack and drink to kids in need next week.

Local governments also pledged support. Hammersmith and Fulham Council in London said it would extend the vouchers over the break “to ensure 5,000 primary and secondary school pupils don’t go hungry”. It is also delivering 600 breakfasts to kids each morning.

Rashford posted similar statements from councils in Liverpool, Doncaster and Southward.

Source: AP