Marcus Rashford is famous in Britain as one of the young stars of the Premier League, but the 22-year-old has scored a vital goal off the pitch, forcing the British Government to restore funding for free meals for children.
- Marcus Rashford joined Manchester United’s academy system at 7 and was sent away to ‘digs’ at the age of 11
- One of five children raised by his single mother, Rashford and his siblings needed food banks and free school meals to get by
- Now 22, he earns $18 million a year as a star striker and has scored 41 goals for the Red Devils
The young man who grew up as one of five children of a hard-working single mother in Manchester’s Wythenshawe area now earns an estimated 10 million pounds ($18 million) a year playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs.
But he has never forgotten his roots, and when Britain was forced into lockdown this year due to the coronavirus, Rashford began to use his platform to raise awareness and money for those in need.
He worked with poverty and food waste charity FareShare to help raise 20 million pounds ($36 million) to provide food for children who would have been eligible for free meals if still at school.
The campaign is helping to provide three million meals a week across the United Kingdom.
But there was still a large gap between the needs of hungry kids and the ability for charities to provide.
At the weekend, Rashford took his campaign one step further, writing an open letter to members of the British Parliament — his post on Twitter was retweeted more than 157,000 times.
“My story to get here is all too familiar for families in England: my mum worked full-time, earning minimum wage to make sure we always had a good evening meal on the table,” he wrote.
“As a family, we relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches.
“Food banks and soup kitchens were not alien to us; I recall very clearly our visits to Northern Moor to collect our Christmas dinners every year.”
Rashford spoke of getting “thousands of insights” from parents trying to cope amid COVID-19.
“[I have listened to] schoolteachers who are personally covering the cost of food packages for their vulnerable families after the school debit card had been maxed out; mothers who can’t cover the cost of increased electricity and food bills during the lockdown, and parents who are sacrificing their own meals for their children.”
He urged the Government to reconsider its decision to cancel the existing food voucher system over the summer holidays to 1.3 million children from lower-income families.
“As a black man from a low-income family in Wythenshawe, Manchester, I could have been just another statistic,” he wrote.
“Instead, due to the selfless actions of my mum, my family, my neighbours, and my coaches, the only stats I’m associated with are goals, appearances and caps.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially resisted, but the Government gave in on Tuesday and said it would continue to provide food vouchers over the six-week summer break.
When schools were shut down in March, the voucher program was set up to help ensure children did not go hungry. Vouchers worth 15 pounds ($27.40) were given to spend each week in supermarkets.
The Government said it would continue the program over the summer in England at a cost of 120 million pounds ($219 million). Authorities in Scotland and Wales have similar plans.
Until Tuesday, Mr Johnson’s Conservative Government had refused to budge, pointing out that it had earmarked an extra 63 million pounds ($115 million) for local authorities to support vulnerable families.
But Rashford’s campaign quickly picked up steam, backed by celebrities, opposition politicians and even some Conservative MPs.
After the announcement, Rashford tweeted: “I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020.”
Mr Johnson said he had spoken to Rashford to congratulate and thank him.
“We have to understand the pressures families are under right now and that’s why we’ve responded as we have,” Mr Johnson said.
Rashford is not the only young star working to help those in need during the pandemic.
His teammate Jesse Lingard has taken part in charity FIFA tournaments to raise money for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).
Lately, as Britain moves to require people to wear face masks to limit the spread of COVID-19, Lingard has created new 12-pound “JLingz” masks, with all proceeds going to provide funds for the NHS.
Rashford’s achievement in forcing the policy change drew praise from the worlds of sport and politics.
Anne Longfield, England’s Children’s Commissioner, thanked Rashford for highlighting “the blight of holiday hunger”.
Manchester United’s official Twitter account said: “A hero. An inspiration. One of our own. We are so proud of you, Marcus Rashford.”
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters praised Rashford’s perseverance.
“It’s a really important and heart-moving cause so I offer my congratulations to him,” Masters said.
In a statement, Rashford thanked British MPs for listening.
“This was never about me or you, this was never about politics, this was a cry out for help from vulnerable parents all over the country and I simply provided a platform for their voices to be heard,” he wrote.
“I stand proud today knowing that we have listened, and we have done what is right.”