Businesses and communities across Swindon are stepping in to help feed Swindon’s vulnerable children over half-term.
The moves come after plans to continue the free school meal scheme into the half-term were shot down by the government.
Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford has been spearheading the campaign and businesses across Swindon and the rest of the UK have been offering their support where the government did not.
In Swindon, staff at the tea rooms on Cricklade Road are serving up more than 20 free packed lunches a day from Monday to Friday between 11am and 1pm to families who were receiving free school meals during term time.
The snack pack consists of either a filled roll or sandwich with a bag of crisps, fruit, a small cake and a drink.
A spokesman said: “Due to the government rejecting calls to extend the voucher scheme over half-term we have made a decision to help where we can.
“Please do not be afraid to pop in and ask but these will only be available to those who really need it. Do not abuse it as there are genuine people who need a little help at this very difficult time
“This is done on trust as myself and Lib will not stand there and question you.
“If more than one meal is required, we may just ask for proof you have more than one child in the household, only to make sure we can help as many as possible.”
In the town centre, family-run cafe The Octagon is offering free lunches to children.
Owner Jon Flitcroft said: “We are going to be taking part in the free school meals and offer any school child a free lunch box to takeaway or eat in as long as they are accompanied by an adult.
“Just message us on Facebook Messenger if you will be coming in to claim one between 12-2pm until Saturday October 31.”
From Monday to Friday, the Weighbridge Steakhouse & Bar on Penzance Drive is giving out free lunch packs for children which includes a sandwich, drink, piece of fruit and bag of crisps.
A spokesman said: “No child should ever go hungry. In these tough times, we want to give back to our community that has supported us so much, especially in this difficult year.
“Let’s get through these tough times together.”
You can message the restaurant’s Facebook page or email email@example.com to let staff know what days you or someone you know wants a lunch pack and how many are needed.
Britz Fish and Chips has joined in on the action with a statement from the West Swindon takeaway saying: “We at Britz would like to offer free kids meals in October half term, Monday to Friday, 12 to 2pm.
“Sausage and chips or fishcake and chips for all children 16 or under that are in need.”
Sugar Shack has created Milo’s Lunches which will give out free meals to children at the Town Gardens until the end of half term between 12 and 2pm.
Dean Ireland, from Sugar Shack, said: “Having kids ourselves, and being in a position where we don’t need the help, being able to help others is something you should do.”
And it’s not just the independent cafes, restaurants and businesses that are stepping in, national businesses in Swindon are too.
Restaurant chain Frankie & Benny’s revealed it would be offering meals for collection at their Greenbridge location.
Families can collect meals between 12pm and 6pm Monday to Friday and should call the Greenbridge Retail Park branch on 01793 613136 between 11am and 12pm to let staff know how many meals are needed and when you can collect them from the takeaway pick-up point.
All bookings will be treated with strict confidence and it asks people should wear a mask when collecting the meals.
A spokesman said: “Serving families and delicious comfort food is what we do best and we want to help in offering that for everyone.
“We know these are tough times and particularly for parents who need extra help feeding their kids over half term.
“We want to show our support for #NoChildGoesHungry and contribute in our own small way.”
Hobbs House Bakery, located in Malmesbury, Tetbury and Bristol, is offering food to the children of Swindon.
A post on social media said: “If anyone needs any bread to help feed kids to alleviate holiday hunger this half term in the Bristol, Bath, Cheltenham, Gloucester and Swindon Area, please let us know as we would love to support you.”
On Facebook a number of readers criticised the Conservative MPs that voted against Rashford’s bill, including Swindon’s Justin Tomlinson and Robert Buckland.
Fjane Pride: “I love this as an idea and people are amazing but it is hiding the need and taking the pressure off where it should be.
“The government gets to sit back and indulge on their pay rises whilst families and businesses who have been struggling to an unprecedented level are now having to pick up more slack.
“It’s shameful. And I am just thrilled there are good people out there, not in the government but in our community.”
Christine Fitter added: “As long as kids are being fed, that’s all that matters.”