Updated: Kindness of Fenland businesses and individuals helps ensure no local child goes hungry this half-term
The kindness of strangers has seen dozens of local businesses and even more individuals step up to the plate to help ensure disadvantaged children are fed this half-term.
The move comes after the Government, including Fenland's own MP Steve Barclay, voted against extending the free school meals scheme despite pressure from charities and premiership footballer Marcus Rashford.
Mr Barclay, MP for North East Cambridgeshire, defended the Government and outlined money already spent on helping families during the pandemic, and said: "How best to deliver financial support to families during the school holidays has generated passionate debate, and in particular what is the most effective way of doing so.
"We will continue to keep under review the best way to deliver support for children and families, building on the unprecedented £200 billion of Government support provided so far."
Businesses across Fenland have offered families in need the chance of free food this week including Morrisons supermarket in Wisbech which is handing out 30 lunch boxes every day from 9am.
Samuels Farm Shop and Butchers at Walpole St Andrew, Evie's Sandwich Bar in Wisbech and Wisbech St Mary Football Club are also offering families a helping hand.
In March Eastern Promise in High Street, is offering a burger meal with a drink, and Cobblestones and the Spice Bank are also offering lunches.
Posting to a local Facebook page Eastern Promise said: "If your child is entitled to a free meal please contact us on 01354 650894 or private message us on here we will be serving hot meals from 4pm-6pm today (Monday).We will allocate a time slot for you to collect your meal due to social distancing we can only have two people in our shop at one time. No kids need to be in to collect the meal only one adult per family.
"This offer is only available to the children who are entitled to free school meal.
"Meantime if you are struggling financially and can’t afford a hot meal please contact March FoodBank and obtain a free hot meal voucher which you can be used at Eastern Promise since the pandemic started we have been working with our March Foodbank and have already served over 100 meals to families who are struggling financially.”
Alongside businesses dozens of individuals have copied and pasted a message on their Facebook page offering help to families urging people to get in touch discreetly with the promise of food parcels to those in need.
Many have been angered and upset by the decision which Mark Petrou, who runs Petrou's Fish and Chip Shop in Chatteris with his brother, Pete, described as "wrong".
Speaking as his businesses doled out free meals to children today (Monday) Mark said: "It has been absolutely bonkers, we have had lots of children coming in.
"We are not discriminating between those who can afford to buy their child a meal, and those that can't. Any child who wants a free meal can enjoy a treat on us every day this week, Monday to Friday between 12pm and 2pm.
"I know Steve Barclay and I think on the whole he does a good job for Fenland. But on this occasion I think he is wrong, and he is not alone there are 321 other MPs who are also wrong.
"They have misjudged the mood of the people. I am not politically motivated, even though I'm a town councillor, but I and my brother both agree that it is wrong that children are going hungry over half term.
"We wanted to do something to help these children, and food is what we do so it is easy for us to offer a free meal to any child that wants one.
"Our shop is like a hub for the town, and I know how privileged I am because of the position our business has afforded us. I know a lot of people in the town, we have been in this shop for 35 years.
"I know parents who don't eat until their children have finished and then they clear their plates. All we are doing is helping in a difficult situation.
"We are in unprecedented times, and we are not alone in helping. Dave Lyon from March Quality Meats has been over and given us some sausages to help, my mother in law owns an orchard and she has donated apples. We are trying to balance the naughtiness of chips with fruit and yoghurt, not everyone has taken advantage of that, but it is on offer.
"There are a lot of other businesses that have also stepped in to help in their own towns and communities. We all feel it is the right thing to do.
"If the situation doesn't change then we will no doubt do something similar over the Christmas holidays too. This is not the first thing we have done to help the community during lockdown.
"We contacted everyone over 70 on the electoral register in the town and offered to deliver them food. In business it is not always about money, but it is about good will. Fish and chips was not rationed during the Second World War because it was considered so important.
"I don't want to cause a witch hunt over Steve Barclay but I would like to hear what his reasons were for voting the way he did."
Mr Barclay added: "The Government has delivered funding for higher welfare payments to families and extra money to support local authorities working closely with those in need.
"This includes £9 billion of extra funding to support higher welfare payments to families in response to Covid and an extra £4.7 billion of funding for local authorities. This help for families has focused on increased Universal Credit payments, top up payments to wages when hours of work drop, and higher payments for housing costs.
"Alongside this extra funding for welfare and local authorities, we have also allocated extra money to schools specifically to help support disadvantaged children, with an extra £350 million this year for disadvantaged children as part of a total extra £1 billion for schools to help children affected by Covid.
"We have also helped families by supporting as many people as possible to keep their job, through the Furlough Scheme and Self Employment Income Support Scheme. In total the Government has so far spent an extra £200 billion to respond to the pressures from Covid, including to protect our NHS and public services, support families in need, and help businesses retain jobs.
"It is great to see so many local businesses also offering support, which together makes a real difference at this challenging time."