Half-term rush for food banks in Shropshire as school meals row continues

Food banks in Shropshire today spoke of the pressure they are under as they prepare for extra requests for help over half-term.

They say food and other essentials going out to families is rising sharply.

But they also spoke of an influx of donations coming in, with Harvest donations currently helping to fill the food parcels.

It comes after Manchester United star Marcus Rashford highlighted the work of businesses in Shropshire, who are helping by donating food.

The striker, who has campaigned for free school meals to continue in holidays, said he had been "blown away" by the generosity shown by businesses in the county who had stepped in.

Among the local firms helping out are Green Fields Farm Shop in Telford, which is providing food and raising money, and The Town House in Market Drayton which is providing meals for the local foodbank.

MPs last week voted against extending free school meals into the half-term holiday, leading to a wave of support for community projects like food banks and from many cafes, restaurants and other businesses offering free sandwich packs to children.

Liz Jermy from the Oswestry Food Bank, which gives out food on Monday mornings to those with vouchers, said numbers had certainly increased and that half-term added more pressure for families.

"Last Monday we had a queue going down Beatrice Street," she said.

"It was as long as it was during the height of lockdown. We have found that people who have never turned to food banks before are now asking for help.

"What is wonderful is that that help is there because there has been a huge increase in the donations we are receiving, for which we are so grateful.

"It means we can respond to the increased need. Last year we gave out 30 tonnes of food, this year it will be a lot more.

"Last Christmas we sent out 600 Christmas hampers and we are gearing up to do much more this year."

Here to help

Cleobury Mortimer food bank said it was working closely with local schools to ensure families were not in need over half term.

Debbie Brown said: "We are only a small food bank which has been running for a year and we are an open access organisation so anyone can come to us for help. We are working with local schools to ensure families in need can be helped."

Food is also available from Shrewsbury Food Hub which was set up to prevent food waste.

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A spokesman said: "We have a pay-as-you-feel policy, so absolutely anyone can visit us and give what they feel for the food, or take it if they are in need."

The Shropshire Food Poverty Alliance is encouraging people to use the new Shropshire Larder website to find the help and advice they may need during this time.

Volunteer Francesca Romberg said: "During October half-term many families may be worrying about how they can afford to feed their children. But we are here to help."

Ms Romberg said its website now includes information on how to access a food bank or community food project, where families can get free food, and how to eat well on a budget.

It also covers how to get support with benefits, housing, and debt.

She added: "The website has recently undergone a total revamp to meet the needs of those struggling. We have included even more information and updated services in light of Covid-19 regulations."

Petition figures rise

A petition from Mr Rashford calling for free meals to be extended in England over the school holidays has now passed 800,000 signatures, piling further pressure on the Government to act.

The Government comfortably defeated Labour’s motion calling for the extension of free meals during the holidays until Easter 2021 with a Commons majority of more than 60, with just five Tory MPs breaking ranks to vote with the opposition.

Shropshire's five Conservative MPs - Lucy Allan, Philip Dunne, Daniel Kawczynski, Owen Paterson and Mark Pritchard - all voted against the motion and have today defended themselves.

The Prime Minister is now reportedly planning to increase funding for the poorest families over Christmas, a move likely to be seen as a partial climbdown by the Government in its struggle with Rashford.

The Times quoted allies of Mr Johnson as saying work was under way on providing additional support for eligible pupils outside term time.

There was no immediate response to the reports from Downing Street.

It is unclear if it will be enough to defuse the growing anger on the Tory benches as more MPs continued to speak out against the Government’s handling of the issue.

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