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THOUSANDS of feeding stations for hungry children opened across England today as the government stubbornly stuck to its decision to deny them free school meals over half-term.
A huge and spontaneous mobilisation of volunteers took place nationwide to feed hundreds of thousands of the 1.4 million vulnerable and deprived youngsters who qualify for free school meals.
A number of Tory MPs who voted last week to deny children food by not extending free dinners into the holidays faced a backlash in their constituencies.
Dozens of empty plates bearing angry messages were left outside one MP’s office, and another Conservative MP was banned “for life” from a local shop.
A poster appeared on an A-board outside the office of Tory MP Philip Davies in Pudsey, West Yorkshire, stating: “Thatcher starved the miners: now Tories starve the minors.”
An increasing number of worried Tory MPs are speaking out against the government’s intransigence and Conservative-run councils are among those funding meals for England’s poorest children, flying in the face of the heartless decision.
Businesses, charities, churches and community groups also went into action across the country, while Barry’s Tearoom in Cumbria, Greenfields Farm in Telford, The Watering Can in Liverpool, Jordan’s Cafe in Worthing and Count House Cafe in Cornwall joined countless others in providing free meals.
In Leeds, where 28,000 children need free school meals, 36 feeding stations opened today.
Volunteers at one of them said they were left with “tears in their eyes” by the generosity of the community and that a “sea of people” had arrived to contribute, bringing “what they can afford, even if it is just a single bottle of orange squash.”
Leeds Labour councillor Jonathan Pryor said the mobilisation was “inspirational,” and Judith Blake, leader of the Labour-run council, said the 36 feeding stations were “just a small number” of those set up to feed the city’s vulnerable children.
“The support that has been offered in such a short space of time has been truly amazing and is clear proof of the city’s ability to rally round and support those in the greatest need,” she said.
The Leeds mobilisation was repeated across the country, including in Birmingham, where 61,000 vulnerable children receive free school meals.
The Food Foundation charity produced a national “meals map” showing where food is available for children (kidsmealsmap.co.uk).
The government’s decision was backed by 322 Tory MPs last Wednesday — a majority of 61 voting against a Labour proposal to provide vulnerable children with meals — and Tory MPs were suffering the consequences of their callousness today.
In Lancashire the Tory MP for Morecambe & Lunesdale David Morris has been banned for life from the Runners Centre sports shop.
And dozens of empty plates were left outside the office of Southend West MP Sir David Amess by constituents, who queued down the street to take part in the protest.
The plates carried angry messages, which included: “At least Scrooge redeemed himself when he saw the effect he was having on Tiny Tim;” “Tories for the few — not the many;” and simply: “Dear Mr Amess, I’m hungry.”
The protest was organised by feminist group the All Rise Collective.
Organiser Sadie Hasler said: “Quite a few of us are mothers … The moment you start thinking too much about [children] ever being hungry, it’s just heart-breaking.”
A petition by England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford calling for free meals to be extended over the school holidays has been signed by almost 900,000 people, adding to the pressure on the government to change its mind.
Labour says that if the government does not reverse its decision before the Christmas school holidays it will force another Commons vote on the issue.
Today Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reported to be considering “a partial U-turn” on the decision — too late for the October half-term break, which has already started.
Hinting at extra support, he promised to do “everything in our power” to tackle holiday hunger over the winter and the upcoming Christmas break.
Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “Warm words from Boris Johnson will do nothing for the over 1.4 million children at risk of going hungry this half-term that he and his MPs refused to help last week.”
The governments of Scotland and Wales have allocated extra funds to provide free meals for vulnerable children during school holidays.
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