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Rashford 'truly overwhelmed' after 1,000 organisations pledge free school meals

Marcus Rashford said he ‘couldn’t be more proud to call myself British’ following the nationwide support his free meals campaign has received, with more than 1,000 organisations pledging to feed hungry children.

The Manchester United footballer, 22, said he is ‘truly overwhelmed’ over the response received for his campaign to provide free school meals to disadvantaged children over the school holidays.

So far, more than 1,000 organisations have responded to Rashford’s call to action, after Tory MPs voted against his proposal to continue the voucher scheme in the Commons earlier this week.

The move has prompted national backlash, causing a senior Tory MP to today admit his party ‘misunderstood the mood of the country’ and urged ministers to reconsider.

An interactive map, put together by All Together UK, has marked out every cafe, restaurant, charity and council that has come forward to offer meals over the October half-term break.

Over the weekend, the football star has been retweeting every pledge of support that includes the hashtag #endchildfoodpoverty, with offers pouring in from as far as Penzance up to Northumberland.

Manchester-born Rashford, who became an MBE earlier this year, told the BBC: ‘Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell.’

He said if the public wanted ‘to talk about “superstars” and “celebrities”‘ they should refer back to his Twitter feed.

Despite the hard-hit hospitality industry grappling with unprecedented challenges brought by the pandemic, hundreds of local businesses have taken to social media urging struggling families to get in touch. Fast food giant McDonald’s even stepped in to offer 1 million meals to Rashford’s charity FareShare.

Several local authorities, including some run by the Conservatives, have also announced stop-gap schemes despite facing unprecedented funding cuts – further shaming the Government’s decision not to continue the scheme.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, who also took on the Government this week over lockdown funding, announced his region was partnering with the Co-op to make 1,000 meal deal vouchers available to young people.

Senior Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘I think we have to admit that we have misunderstood the mood of the country here.

‘The public want to see the Government taking a national lead on this. I think the Government will probably have to think again on that, particularly if there’s going to be more votes in the House of Commons.’

Just five Tory MPs rebelled and voted in favour of Labour’s motion, prompting one of them, Caroline Ansell, to resign.

Meanwhile, Labour has ramped up the pressure on the Government to perform a U-turn, warning it will bring the motion back to the Commons if ministers do not relent in time for the Christmas holidays.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green called on Boris Johnson to meet with the taskforce set up by Rashford ‘as a matter of urgency’ to discuss its proposals for ending child poverty.

More than 2,000 doctors have joined the campaign demanding the prime minister to extend the free school meals scheme, saying they were shocked at the Government’s ‘refusal’ to do so.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said in a letter to the prime minister that childhood hunger should ‘transcend politics’, and urged him to match pledges made by the three other devolved nations to continue to provide meals.

Some Tory MPs have also been accused over controversial comments on the subject, with one sparking anger after appearing to suggest local businesses giving away free food should not be seeking any further Government support.

Tory MP for North Devon Selaine Saxby later claimed her since-deleted comments were ‘out of context’ and added: ‘I of course deeply regret any offence which may have been caused.’

Her party colleague Ben Bradley also said a tweet he sent appearing to agree with a comment suggesting some meal vouchers went direct to ‘a crack den and a brothel’, was ‘totally taken out of context’.

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