‘This is not about politics, it’s about humanity’, wrote the Wythenshaw-born footballer in a letter to MPs
It’s been impossible to miss this week’s biggest good news story, but we all need to be reminded of the power of humanity, so here it is again.
At the start of the week, Manchester United and England star, Marcus Rashford, wrote an open letter to all members of Parliament urging them to reconsider their decision to end free school meals for low-income families and guarantee their extension over the summer holidays.
People’s kids adore Marcus so to discover that one of their heroes has had the kind of life that they’ve got going on means so much to them
In the heartfelt letter, which quickly went viral, Wythenshaw-born Rashford explained that, as a child whose mother worked full time on minimum wage, he had been one of those previously helped by the school meal system, so understood first-hand how important it is for struggling families.
'As a family we relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches,' he wrote. 'Food banks and soup kitchens were not alien to us.'
An Open Letter to all MPs in Parliament...#maketheUturn
Please retweet and tag your local MPs pic.twitter.com/GXuUxFJdcv
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) June 14, 2020
Rashford went on: 'Wembley Stadium could be filled more than twice with children who have had to skip meals during lockdown due to their families not being able to access food.' He also warned that food poverty was a pandemic in itself, which could spread through generations if not dealt with now.
He explained that he had heard thousand of stories from struggling parents worried about how they were going to feed their families after suddenly losing their jobs, while highlighting the fact that even some headmasters have stepped up to cover the cost of food packages. 'As a black man from a low-income family in Wythenshaw, Manchester,' he says, 'I could have just been another statistic.'
The 22-year-old footballer, who has almost three million followers on Twitter, kept up his campaign and spoke directly to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. As a result, the Department for Education decided not to scrap the initiative following the ease of coronavirus restrictions.
The £15-a-week food vouchers will now be made available to around 1.3 million children in England for a further six weeks with what is being referred to as a ‘Covid Summer Food Fund.’
In response to the government u-turn yesterday, Rashford tweeted: 'I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.'
I don’t even know what to say.
Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) June 16, 2020
Earlier in lockdown, the England forward paired up with food distribution charity FareShare, which has to date supplied 3 million meals per week to vulnerable groups across the UK. The charity estimates more than 50,000 vulnerable people across Greater Manchester are accessing FareShare food each week – almost twice as many as it was helping to feed before the coronavirus outbreak.
Confidential spoke to Miranda Kaunang, head of development at FareShare Greater Manchester, based at Openshaw, who told us; “His letter took us all by surprise, but it’s so important because he has spoken from the heart but with dignity and authority and it was very inspiring for us. Just the attention he has brought to the issue. I think he’s done a really important thing.”
Miranda continued “On Monday when the government said no, I was so disheartened, I thought, ‘oh well that’s that.’ But Marcus didn’t. He said ‘we’re not giving up on this’ and then the next day - which was only yesterday - he brought about this change.
“We at Fareshare are really clear that feeding hungry children is a 365-day issue, but it’s a really important step forward in the right direction. I’ve had conversations with a number of people over the last two days, who have shared their childhood stories, recognising their lives in what Marcus described. It has allowed more people to feel that it’s all right to talk about it from a place of resilience I suppose.
“So trying to fight the whole stigma - because so many people don’t want to be defined as being in that position of need - is so important. I just think the style, the way he’s gone about it for such a young man has been so impressive. People’s kids adore Marcus so to discover that one of their heroes has had the kind of life that they’ve got going on means so much to them, and then what that could lead to. It’s really inspiring.”
Miranda promised she will be writing to all their members to tell them that Marcus has said that he wants to do even more. "He’s going to be thinking about next steps and looking at the data and working out what to do, rather than rushing into something. I think we all should start thinking about the next steps and find out from affected families and even kids themselves about how we can really make sure that all food is available to those who need it.
“Schools have been very active, but they need to take a break at some point to get ready for the full return hopefully in September. It must be a historical notion that families don’t need help over the six weeks of the school holidays, that needs to be questioned and changed.”
To find out more and volunteer or donate, visit FareShare Greater Manchester
About FareShare Greater Manchester
FareShare Greater Manchester is the region’s branch of the UK’s largest food redistribution charity. It saves over 1268 tonnes of good surplus food from right across the food supply chain and redistributes it to 250 charities and community groups throughout Greater Manchester. These charities provide meals as part of their services to people in need – such as children’s breakfast clubs, day clubs for older people, domestic violence refuges, homeless shelters and drug and alcohol rehab units. In 2019/20 it provided enough food for over 3 million meals.