MARCUS Rashford has hit back at Twitter trolls who targeted the families of Tory MPs.
The footballer, 22, has been the face of a drive to give free school meals to vulnerable children in the holidays.
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The motion was voted down in Parliament, prompting vile trolls to harass and target Conservative politicians.
Rashford slammed the actions, saying he "will not condone personal attacks".
The Manchester United star said: "I want to take a quick second to acknowledge that a number of MPs, and their families, have received unacceptable abuse of the last couple of days, especially on Twitter.
"Believe me, as a Premier League player, I know all to well what that feels like and it's unnecessary. We are all bigger than that."
Rashford added that he was concerned about social media attacks on women.
"Disappointment is a natural reaction, but we must rise above it. We have proved how much power that there is in togetherness, just look at my Twitter feed, it's overwhelming," he said.
"What we need right now is collaboration. Let's stay focused on what is most important, which is our children and making sure that they get the help that they need."
The England star has praised local communities for stepping up after his petition was voted down.
Rashford is continuing today to share tweets to his 3.7 million followers showing the locations where food is being provided for vulnerable people who are struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic.
His kid-meal crusade was given a Dunkirk-style boost as hundreds of little shops across Britain sailed to the rescue.
They offered free food over the half-term holidays to help struggling families.
The 22-year-old told Newsnight: "I am truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
"You want to talk about 'celebrities' and 'superstars', look no further than my Twitter feed and that's exactly what you'll find.
"Growing up we didn't have a lot, but we always had the safety net of the community.
"That community was my family. When we stumbled, we were caught with open arms.
"Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell."
Proud Rashford hailed the nation for backing his kids’ meal crusade, saying: “Selflessness, kindness, togetherness, this is the England I know.”
I am truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support
Dozens of councils also promised to provide vouchers to low-income families.
And McDonald’s stepped in with a million free meals.
Meanwhile Rishi Sunak has been accused of "parking the treasury bus" to block Rashford's campaign.
The Chancellor held firm as the England striker piled mounting pressure on the Government to cave in to his £20 million demand.
Amid growing concern in Tory ranks, Mr Sunak said he would not stump up the cash to feed 1.4 million deprived kids outside term-time.
Jittery backbench MPs began voicing worries as the Man United star’s campaign was backed by 100 councils, restaurants and more than 760,000 people who signed a petition.
The nation’s surge of support came after a Labour motion to offer free school meals over the holidays until Easter 2021 was defeated in the Commons.
Three Lions hero Rashford — who forced a Government U-turn over vouchers in the summer holidays and was recently awarded an MBE — started tweeting the details of generous firms and councils on Thursday night.
On Friday he listed dozens more and tweeted: “Blown away by news of businesses stepping up to fill the voucher scheme deficit during the October half-term."
A handy map has been created showing all the places you can get free meals for kids over half-term.
Those backing the Manchester United striker include businesses in Tier 3 “very high” Covid alert areas such as Liverpool and Sheffield.
Small firms in Nottingham, Staffordshire and County Durham have also stepped up to the plate.
Birmingham City Council has said it will provide 61,000 children with vouchers. London’s Southwark Council will spend up to £10,000.
Children are entitled to free meals from Year Three onward if their parents are on benefit packages including Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit, subject to earnings.
Lesley Berry, 52, who runs Berry’s Tearoom in Brampton, Cumbria, backed Marcus and said: “I’ve been there, I was a single mum of three working two jobs to make ends meet. I used to dread the holidays, wondering how I’d be able to pay for everything. No one should feel like that.
“I’m in a position now where I can help people who were like me.
“Making a few sandwiches is no hardship but it’ll mean a lot for some families.”
Will Shaw, 32, and wife Rachel, 26, run the Astoria bar and restaurant in Urmston, Manchester, and said: “We backed Marcus as soon as MPs rejected his idea.
“We’re giving away the food we have in stock to any kid that needs it next week because we can’t have them going hungry — it’s as simple as that.”
Caring Fiona Crump, of Castle Beach Cafe in Falmouth, Cornwall, added: “I’ll be making free lunch bags for any child who would normally get a free school lunch. No need to buy anything, just come to the counter and ask.
“This community has really supported me this summer. This feels a way to give something back.”
McDonald’s will provide funding to FareShare, a charity aimed at relieving food poverty, which will enable it to distribute a million free meals to children.
McDonald’s UK CEO Paul Pomroy said: “We are committed to supporting and serving the communities in which we operate. In these challenging times, we know it’s more important than ever to support those most in need.”
'NATIONAL TREASURE' MARCUS
Marcus has raised £20million for FareShare and on Thursday he and mum Melanie helped out at one of its Manchester foodbanks.
He has previously told how the single mum relied on free meals and did 14-hour shifts to feed him and his four siblings growing up in nearby Wythenshawe.
Speaking after Wednesday’s Commons defeat, the striker said: “A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter. We must stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers. Our views are being clouded by political affiliation. This is not politics, this is humanity.”
Another restaurant owner backing the star is Rosie Storrar, 27, of Gilt Rooms in West Mersea, Essex.
She told The Sun: “We said straight away we wanted to help even though we are struggling like everyone else. It’s the right thing to do. Marcus has done more in the last week than most people have done in their entire lives.”
John Duffy, 33, manager of Greystones Pub in Sheffield, said: “Lockdown has been hard on everybody and we just want to be able to do something small to help those around us. Marcus is a genuine national treasure.”
Alex Stephens, 27, who owns Farm Fresh in Nottingham with partner Grace Bernon, 31, said: “No kid should be going hungry at this horrible time. Our food is locally-sourced and will be a nice healthy lunch for kids in need.”
The Sun says…
THE army of cafés, pubs and restaurants inspired by Marcus Rashford to feed poor kids for free at half term is a proud and heartwarming moment for Britain.
The generosity of hundreds of businesses, many fighting for their own survival, has been as admirable and overwhelming as the star’s own community spirit and dogged perseverance.
Well done to them all, as well as big businesses like McDonald’s which have also joined the campaign.
Some say the Government should fund free meals from our taxes, or by adding them to the Covid bill later generations will have to pay. Others disagree. But the issue is more complex than many make out. It should not be a political football.
As Marcus says: “Our views are being clouded by political affiliation.”
We should take the heat, politics and blame out of it and focus on the hungry kids themselves. They are blameless.
Let us just be grateful to all those businesses and communities which have stepped up, support them in turn, and marvel at this story of hope in a dark time.
Big Smoke Brew Co, who have six pubs in South West London, will be offering 1,000 free lunches to anyone who needs them.
Rashford also retweeted a post by taxi firm The Panda Cab based in Bootle, Merseyside.
It is offering free return transport to families with young children needing foodbanks but struggling to get there.
The Marmalade Hut in Rotherham is offering kids a free ham or cheese sandwich and a bag of crisps.
Posting on Facebook, the company wrote: “Parents, carers, guardians, there is no shame and no questions asked if your child comes with you to the shop for a sandwich.”
Teacher Paul Jones, 42, is donating food to Midland Mencap. He said: “I work in a deprived area of Birmingham and I see them coming to class hungry and it makes me sad.
“Sometimes the only hot meal they get is the one at school. Marcus Rashford has inspired people to donate their time and food, which is lovely to see but it’s just a pity we have to.
“We’re one of the richest countries in the world and our children should not be going hungry.”
Dave Pickard, at Midland Mencap, said: “It is vital to support the community and families with children with disabilities. Marcus Rashford is doing amazing work for Britain.
“The phone has been ringing off the hook since we announced what we were doing — just goes to show how many people are in need.”
THERE TO HELP
MINIKIN ART CAFE, MANCHESTER
Claire Oliver, 44, who runs the cafe, said: “Marcus is an inspiration and I didn’t hesitate to join his campaign.
“And I’ve been overwhelmed by the support since word went round that we’d joined in.
“I’ve got £1,000 in donations to make hundreds of extra meals.
“I’d planned to offer jacket potatoes, snacks and crisps to kids but I’ll be able to extend it.
“I won’t ask any family for a voucher or make anyone feel uncomfortable. Food will just be there.”
PUDDING PANTRY, NOTTINGHAM
Boss Anthony Quinn, 33, said: “Big business support for Marcus’s campaign is great but it’s marvellous to see so many small firms like ours joining in.
“It feels like a real community effort, which is exactly what will get us through the Covid crisis.”
Anthony, who runs two branches, added: “We specialise in snacks, pancakes, puddings and home-made cakes and have extra volunteers lined up to help give kids a treat over the holidays.”
JOE’S TAKEAWAY, SPALDING
Carlo Cifaldi, 23, runs Joe’s Takeaway in Spalding, Lincs, with dad Joe, 68. They are offering sausage and chips or cod and chips to kids in need.
Carlo, right, said: “We wanted to help straight away — it was a split-second decision.
“We get a lot of school kids in here and we don’t want any going hungry. Marcus is amazing, using his star power for good. We’re small fry but we’re in a position where we can help, so we wanted to give back to the people of Spalding.”
QOOT RESTAURANT GROUP, LONDON
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The restaurant group will provide free meals for kids in need in the half-term and Christmas holidays.
They will offer a meal, side and drink before 1pm on presentation of benefits documents.
Scot Turner, QOOT vice-president of operations, said: “We have been supporting Only a Pavement Away, to support London’s homeless and have now stepped up to pledge support for Marcus’s initiative, and urge our friends in the industry to join us in supporting those vulnerable children.”
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