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South Yorkshire’s remarkable spirit to feed hungry kids

Written by on 27/10/2020

The emotionally-charged row over feeding South Yorkshire’s hungry school children over the half term holiday has shown a remarkable community spirit emerge across the county with offers of help emerging from a huge range of sources.

All four local councils have stepped in to ensure families with children who get free school dinners in term-time get an alternative payment this week after the Government pulled the plug on its own funding scheme which it had operated during the summer holidays.

That decision, voted through by Tory MPs in the House of Commons, provoked a spontaneous response from those outraged at the thought of youngsters being left without enough to eat.

One of the early offers came in from Bridge End Fisheries in Penistone, where owner Julie Taylor offered free sausage and chips to those needing lunch, even opening on two days when the shop is normally closed to serve up.

She was surprised to see offers of help flood in, including donations of potatoes for the chips, fruit to add to the meals and the town’s Cafe Creme coffee shop offering up gluten free meals for those who needed help.

Penistone has emerged as have a focused and generous community, with the Barista coffee lounge offering assistance, along with Roberts’ butchers offering sandwich based meals and even individuals offering to batch cook meals, with suggestions of those needing help making direct contact to avoid any stigma over accepting charity.

But it is not only independent traders who have stepped in.

The Mercure hotels group which operates Tankersley Manor in Barnsley posted a blunt opinion of the government’s position, stating: “We do not want any child going to bed hungry. This government decision to not offer free school meals is quite frankly heartbreaking.

“We as a team have decided to help where we can and we will prepare as many free packed lunches (During Half-Term) as needed.”

They say the Monday to Friday service will be done with “complete discretion” and those wanting help should speak to the duty manager.

Others have gone further still.

In Sheffield the Rhubarb Shed cafe in Manor Lane had been planning to serve food to children needing a meal on Thursday October 29, starting with sandwiches and drinks and promising to find something else if more meals were needed after those supplies ran out.

Their plans have been dramatically extended, however, with other traders offering to support their offer, and that means the deal has been thrown open to anyone needing a meal.

They have said: “We didn’t think this would gain the attention that it has and weren’t expecting donations in any form so due to everything we have received we will be offering more options than originally advertised and not limiting this to just children.

“We will have a food collection point outside the cafe where everyone can collect items such as breakfast sandwiches, cold sandwiches, hotdogs, fruit, crisps and other treats as well as a hot drinks station.

“We are planning on starting at 11 am til 2 pm ish (or until we run out).”

The county’s generosity has emerged as the government has come under increased pressure over it’s stance.

Ministers have insisted they have provided local authorities with extra cash to allow them to provide services like school meal replacements.

However Boris Johnson has sparked speculation that some form of u-turn may be on the agenda by telling an interviewer that the government did not want to see any children go hungry over the winter.

That has been interpreted as a suggestion measures will be put in place in time for a national meal scheme before the Christmas break.

If that is correct, it could leave Conservative MPs who voted in favour of withdrawing the scheme operated successfully in the summer facing further criticism of their stance.

Miriam Cates MP, who won the Penistone and Stocksbridge seat for the Conservatives from Labour less than a year ago has faced some online hostility over her decision to vote with the government. Increasing numbers of her back bench colleagues are becoming concerned about the way the meals campaign, instigated by footballer Marcus Rashford, is reflecting on the government.

Do you know of others who have stepped in to help in South Yorkshire? Let us know.