Lancashire's feeding frenzy after football star's school meals campaign is booted out by Government
Football star Marcus Rashford’s holiday hunger campaign has sparked a feeding frenzy amongst businesses and community groups desperate to help.
Now thousands of hungry schoolchildren across Lancashire will get free meals after all during half-term, despite the Government’s controversial decision not to foot the bill.
Chip shops, cafes, charities and even a boxing gym have all rallied round to fill the vacuum left by free school meals.
And one new business making desserts in Chorley has stepped in to help after partners Tom Moss and Meggan Boon revealed they both went hungry as children during school holidays.
“We just want to give something back because we both know what it’s like when your family is struggling,” said Tom.
The initiative by Rashford to secure meal vouchers for poor families during half-term failed in the Commons on Wednesday night, whipping up anger across the nation.
But while the Government was not prepared to help, the Great British public were, with an avalanche of food offers from free chips, to sandwiches, to chocolate brownies.
Andrew Crook, who runs a chippy in Euxton, is also the president of the National Federation of Fish Friers. And during half-term week he is encouraging members up and down the country to help struggling families feed their children.
His own place, Skippers in Talbot Row, is offering free sausage and chips to youngsters at lunchtime.
“We have always been part of the community here - fish and chip shops have always had a central role in their area,” said Andrew. “A lot are offering to help out families during half-term week, it has really taken off.
“It’s been a challenging year for everyone and it’s going to be a difficult Christmas for some families. So we all need to pull together and make it easier for everybody if we can.”
Up the road in Coppull another chippy is also doing its bit with an offer of a free cone of chips for children at lunchtime.
James Sheehan, co-owner of Oh My Cod in Spendmore Lane, said he was inspired to do something after seeing other local businesses in the area stepping up and helping in any way they can.
“I’d been following Marcus Rashford’s recent campaign and I couldn’t help but find him inspiring,” he explained.
“But I was disgusted with the government’s decision to vote against the motion to give kids meals during the half term, especially as these MPs get subsidised luxury meals in the House of Commons, yet deny the poorest in society a simple meal.
“After thinking things over and seeing a couple of places near where we live doing something about it, myself and business partner Chris Mayor discussed doing our bit and we both agreed it was the right thing to do.
"The reaction to the post so far on Facebook has been great and hopefully we should be able to help feed some hungry kids.”
Preston cafe owner Helen Ball has a motto: “When the poor need help, ask the poor.” And the community around her cafe in Ribbleton has really rallied round to help feed hungry schoolchildren during half-term.
“People are fantastic round here,” she said at the Top Cafe in Ribbleton Lane. “They might not have a lot, but they are still prepared to give what they’ve got to help others.
"It’s disappointing the Government won’t give out free meal vouchers for half-term. But our community has stepped up instead to make sure the kids don’t go hungry.”
Donations of food from the cafe’s customers already mean free breakfasts for local schoolchildren during term time. From Monday Helen and her staff will be offering packed lunches to sustain youngsters during half-term.
“It just shows the great community spirit there is around here. It’s typical of people who don’t have much themselves, but still want to help.”
The support organisation Community Owned in Preston will be working hard all week to feed hungry mouths in the Ashton and Plungington area during half-term. And Chris Murray says at least 50 children will be getting a free lunch despite the Government’s stance on school meal vouchers.
“Families need help - it is vital at this time,” he said as the group Preston Here For Humanity was ready to swing into action with food donated by the city’s new Oops! store.
“It is disappointing that the Government won’t do it - and that they gave us just two or three days notice. We’ve been running around like headless chickens to make sure the children don’t suffer and are able to access meals while they are off school.”
People can contact the group via Facebook, by email at [email protected] or turn up at Ashton Methodist Church.
Box Kitchen, a new eatery on Fishergate, Preston, is also offering free lunches to schoolchildren from Tuesday until Friday (11.30am-2pm).
Owner Chris Maughan said: “Living and working within the Preston area I have seen first hand the devastating effect the pandemic has had on families. My partner is a teacher and works with disadvantaged children every day.
“After hearing the news that MPs had rejected the plea for free school meals this half term we felt compelled to do something and decided we would offer a free lunch to school aged children to give a helping hand to those who may need it and to ensure our local children do not go hungry this half term."
Partners Tom Moss and Meggan Boon know what it is like to go hungry during school holidays. The couple, who have just launched a company called Rora’s Desserts in Chorley, both benefited from free school meals as children.
Now, like footballer Marcus Rashford, they say they want to return the favour.
All week they will be offering free packed lunches for youngsters in Chorley whose families may be finding it financially tough during the Covid pandemic.
“It’s absolutely brilliant we can give something back,” said Tom. “We both had free school meals because our families weren’t well off.
“But during school holidays it was tough. There were times when we went hungry. It was hard and we now appreciate how other families are feeling right now.
“If we can help to make any sort of difference for even 10 or 20 families then that would be great.”
Tom and Meggan can be contacted through the Rora’s Desserts Facebook or Instagram pages.
Meals can be picked up at the couple’s base in Knowle Street, off Pall Mall and they will even drop off lunches for people unable to get out.
“I had one call from a woman whose friend has four children and is a single parent,” added Tom. “We have arranged to drop off four packed lunches at her house every day next week.”
Rashford’s food initiative has proved a real knockout with youngsters at a boxing club.
And the Jennings Academy in Coppull is already planning to feed children over the festive period - just like it did last year.
“There are some kids who don’t even get a sausage casserole at Christmas, never mind a turkey dinner,” said director and fundraiser Neil Aspinall.
“We got funding last year to provide hot meals over the holiday period and it proved very popular. So we intend to do it again this Christmas and then hopefully extend it throughout all the holidays next year.”
MPs voted down the idea on Wednesday and it came too late for the gym to organise food handouts this week. But come Christmas they will be leading the way.
“Marcus is championing this,” said Neil. “He has lit a spark which seems to be catching light. Sadly the Government doesn’t want to back just yet, but this could almost shame them into looking at it again.
“We aren’t jumping on the bandwagon because we started doing this last year. We secured funding from the Maverick Stars Trust to do it and they have pledged more support this Christmas too.”
“Thankfully Maverick Stars have pledged more funding for us for this Christmas and after that we intend to do it every half-term next year, even if we can’t get funding.
“Sadly it is too late for us to be doing it this half-term. But we still provide food for the youngsters who come down to the gym.”
Manchester United star Rashford launched his End Child Food Poverty campaign back in April after revealing he went hungry as a child growing up in a deprived area.
His aim is to get extra help for 1.4m disadvantaged children in England with £15 vouchers for food during school holidays.
But after the Labour Party motion was voted down in the Commons the nation rose up in a massive show of support for the idea during this week’s half-term break.
Rashford admitted he was “blown away” by the response from all sectors. He said on social media: “Selflessness, kindness, togetherness, this is the England I know."