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Community praised for 'phenomenal' response to Marcus Rashford's free school meals plea

The Maidenhead community has been praised for its ‘phenomenal’ response to footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to keep children fed during the school holidays.

A proposal to extend a voucher scheme for eligible children to receive free school meals over the half-term and winter holidays was rejected by Government last week.

This was despite pressure from Manchester United footballer Rashford, 22, who set up a petition calling for meals to be provided until Easter 2021.

Charities, community groups, sports teams and businesses in Maidenhead responded by digging into their pockets and providing meals for those in need.

Maidenhead Foodshare put out a call for people to support its Holiday Hunger Appeal – which has been running since 2018 – to provide grab bags and hot meals for borough families.

Debbie Gee and Sam Chalk with bags of food at Maidenhead Foodshare

Trustee Debbie Gee said: “I put a call out and said was anyone able to help and had a phenomenal response from businesses and members of the public.

“Demand has definitely been going up by the day and we have got more and more people asking for support.

“There shouldn’t be one child in the Royal Borough that needs to go hungry in the school holidays.”

Crates of food were donated to the foodbank from the Waitrose store in Moorbridge Road with staff also having a whip-round to support the campaign.

Members of Maidenhead Rotary Club also played their part by working with the Maiden’s Head pub to support families in need.

Rotarian Harry Patel, owner of Gourmet Chicken, based at the High Street watering hole, has delivered cooked meals to several families throughout the week.

He also helped raise £250 with Maiden’s Head staff, with Maidenhead Rotary Club matching that donation, which paid for food parcels to be distributed by Maidenhead Foodshare.

Rotary Club president Mary Spinks said: “No one wants at this time of year, and with all that’s going on with this awful pandemic, for people to be hungry.

“Anything like this we can do will hopefully help those in need.”

Steve Boucher, landlord at 15 Queen St, and Maidenhead Rotary Club president Mary Spinks

Theresa May and Adam Afriyie, the Conservative MPs for Maidenhead and Windsor, voted against extending the free school meals scheme. Beaconsfield MP Joy Morrissey had no vote recorded while Slough’s Labour MP Tan Dhesi voted in favour of the proposal.

Councillor Stuart Carroll (Con, Boyn Hill), cabinet member for children’s services, said schools had been contacted ahead of half-term and advised to issue vouchers over the holidays to any family in need.

He said the council will lobby Government to reimburse these costs after the half-term break.

“This is a Government responsibility and the Government need to step up and provide funding and the Government needs to work with us to ensure no child is left in harm’s way by not being able to get access to a proper meal and have access to food,” he said.

“These are basic fundamental requirements which we must all collectively work together on.”

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

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