Caring Wiganers turn out in force to feed hungry children during half-term break

Footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to ensure vulnerable children have enough to eat during school holidays has led to an outpouring of community spirit in Wigan.
Ben Anglesea and Darryl Latham, from Wigan Eats, hand out lunches with Chris Mason, headteacher at Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School, Beech HillBen Anglesea and Darryl Latham, from Wigan Eats, hand out lunches with Chris Mason, headteacher at Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School, Beech Hill
Ben Anglesea and Darryl Latham, from Wigan Eats, hand out lunches with Chris Mason, headteacher at Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School, Beech Hill

Numerous caring business owners and volunteers have stepped forward to provide thousands of lunches for youngsters who would normally receive free school meals during term-time.

They have the backing of many generous Wiganers, who have dug deep to provide funds and food for some of the projects.

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And Wigan Council has also stepped in to help the 10,500 children eligible for school meals by offering £15 vouchers to ensure they do not go hungry.

Pemberton Fish Bar owners Maria, Anastasia and Tony PapakyriacouPemberton Fish Bar owners Maria, Anastasia and Tony Papakyriacou
Pemberton Fish Bar owners Maria, Anastasia and Tony Papakyriacou

What makes the massive community effort all the more impressive is that it was pulled together in just a few days in time for the beginning of half-term, after the Government voted down a proposal late last week to provide meals during school holidays until Easter.

One of the largest projects in the borough has been led by food directory Wigan Eats, which has almost reached its £15,000 fund-rasing target to pay for 10,000 meals.

It teamed up with Fur Clemt, which is putting together the lunches, and The Old Courts, who are delivering them to 10 schools and community venues around the borough for collection by families between 11am and 1pm each day.

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Ben Anglesea, owner of Wigan Eats, said: “It’s going to make a huge difference, especially for those relying on the school meals to get through the week. It’s not easy for people who can provide food for their children, so it must be more difficult for those who can’t. These people have still got pride and I hope they come out and get the meals.”

Anthea Caffrey, Gill Williams and Steve Jones, from Bryn Support CentreAnthea Caffrey, Gill Williams and Steve Jones, from Bryn Support Centre
Anthea Caffrey, Gill Williams and Steve Jones, from Bryn Support Centre

One of the first businesses to offer meals was The Courtyard, on Jaxons Court in Wigan, which invited parents struggling to feed their primary school-aged children to go there for a meal between Tuesday and Saturday this week.

The Facebook post was shared more than 1,100 times and received hundreds of comments, with the firm’s Twitter post being retweeted by Marcus Rashford.

His retweet was then shared by Wigan MP Lisa Nandy, who said: “To (mis)quote the late, great Tony Wilson: This is Wigan. We do things differently here.”

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She also encouraged people to visit Marcus’s Twitter account and said she was “proud” of the council for providing vouchers.

Bryn Support Centre already provides food parcels for those in need, but has also been making school lunches to help local families during half-term.

Coun Steve Jones, who runs the centre, praised people in the area for supporting the initiative.

He said: “We have had financial donations to buy things for food parcels and we have had so much food donated. We have carrier bag upon carrier bag of food - we have a room full of food to give out.

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“If anyone is struggling, they don’t need to be referred, they just have to get in touch with Bryn Support Centre or me directly and we will deliver a food parcel.”

Many food businesses across the borough have stepped in to provide meals, including Tack Thai Food, on Great George Street in Wigan.

They were offering lunches to children, such as chip barms and fish fingers, on Tuesday and will repeat from noon to 2pm on Thursday.

Packed lunches can be collected each day until Friday from Rustic Kitchen, in Bryn, and from family-run bistro The Black Pepper, on Library Street in Wigan.

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Children’s breakfasts will be provided for free at The Mount in Orrell, with requests made through Facebook, while Pemberton Fish Bar will have hot food for children between 11.30am and 1.30pm every day until Saturday.

Free meals for youngsters will be available from The Whitesmiths Arms, on Standishgate, all week.

The Food Box, in Makinson Arcade, is providing free meals for struggling families from 10am to 1pm on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Chinese Buffet in Wigan is offering 300 free meals, across its four restaurants in the North West, each day until Friday for children in need.

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The families of youngsters eligible for free school meals are being contacted by the council after it decided to provide £15 vouchers to ensure they could get food.

Council leader Coun David Molyneux said: “This is the right thing to do. Thousands of young children and families across our borough rely on free school meals and this means they will not go hungry over the school holidays.

“We acknowledge that families are facing unprecedented challenges at the moment and this decision will ease some of the burden.”

He added: “We are aware that many businesses and organisations across the borough had started their own campaigns in the last few days to help out children eligible for free school meals over this October half-term.

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“It is that sense of community spirit that typifies our borough and we would like to thank them for their efforts.

“It would be fantastic to see families use their vouchers to support local businesses and food pantries – in line with our community wealth building principles.”

Coun Richard Watts, chairman of the Local Government Association’s resources board, called on the Government to provide more funding so councils can support those who need help.

He said supporting vulnerable children was a “top priority” for councils and they received short-term hardship funding from the Government over the summer to help struggling residents.

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But, he continued: “Demand for support from households facing financial hardship as a result of Covid-19 has outstripped this funding now and councils are having to find money from stretched budgets to top it up. This is increasingly difficult as they continue to face rising costs of providing services - such as adult social care, protecting children and housing rough sleepers - and income losses as a result of the pandemic.

“As many households are likely to be economically vulnerable for some time to come, it is vital that the Government restores local welfare funding so councils can provide preventative support to all households who need it.”

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