23 October 2020, 10:48 AM
  • A number of businesses have offered to provide meals for children after the government rejected footballer Marcus Rashford’s calls to extend the scheme over the upcoming holidays
Cafés and farm shops join Marcus Rashford’s campaign, pledging free meals for children

Businesses across the country have joined footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals over the upcoming holidays by pledging to offer food to children who qualify for the scheme.

After the government on Wednesday rejected calls to extend the programme over the half-term and winter holidays, local shops, cafés and restaurants have come out in droves to support the children in their communities.

Green Fields Farm Shop in Telford wrote on its Facebook page: “We’d like to do our bit for the children in our local community next week. If you’re in receipt of free school meals, and will struggle financially to provide the extra food this half term, we are here to help.”

In a later post, the shop said it had received “lots and lots of kind offers of help” and had already had 40 boxes ordered for next week. “That’s 40 children already having a lovely packed lunch all week long. Our local community [is] amazing.”

In England, around 1.3 million children claimed free school meals in 2019. According to Rashford’s campaign, 14% of parents and 10% of children have experienced food insecurity over the last six months, and demand for food banks this winter is expected to be 61% higher than last year.

The Rhubarb Shed Cafe in Sheffield said it would offer free school meals and parcels as a thank you to its loyal customers. “This is our way of saying thank you to those families who have supported our family during lockdown by ordering from us. Although this token may be small, we hope it brings a smile to some children’s faces during this dark time.”

Farm Fresh UK, a market based in Nottingham that also pledged meals for children, said: “Proud to be part of our local community and even prouder to be able to support it in times of hardship.

On Twitter, Rashford wrote that he was “blown away” by the response: “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.”

As of this morning, Rashford’s petition to end child food poverty by implementing recommendations from the National Food Strategy had received more than 430,000 signatures.

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