Sundance Times - Continuing the Crook County News Since 1884

This Side of the Pond

Notes from an Uprooted Englishwoman

 

July 2, 2020



I don’t necessarily want to hear movie stars sing me a song of solidarity in times of trouble, or take life advice from pop idols who have long since lost touch with reality, but I do believe fame provides a platform. And if they are happy to reap the rewards of stardom, I’d like to think there’s a moral imperative for these famous folk to return that favor to the people who put them on their pedestals.

That goes as much for the stars who got where they are through talent as it does for the ones who seem to have managed it by not wearing many clothes. All of which is why my heart soared to watch a young man from Britain use his voice to protect the most vulnerable of us all.

As we speak, I should be experiencing the exquisite agony of Euro 2020, the bi-annual soccer tournament that England didn’t have a hope of winning until we replaced our manager and most of the team with people who know how to kick a ball. Since our unexpected success in the World Cup in 2018, my nation has been waiting to see if we can pull off a miracle and win something for a change.

Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to tackle people when you might be riddled with virus particles, so I’m not clenching my way through the summer after all. I am, however, celebrating one of those young players who has helped carry my national team to greater heights than it’s known in years.

The player in question is Marcus Rashford. Just 22 years old, he’s a world-class talent who also plays for Manchester United, the most popular league team in the world.

Rashford was watching along with the rest of Britain as, back in March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that schools would be closing for the foreseeable future. He knew in an instant that this would cause bigger problems than kids missing the rest of the year’s geography lessons.

It’s not much more than a decade, you see, since Rashford was a young boy in a family where it was tough to make ends meet. His single mother worked full time for minimum wage, but wasn’t able to keep up with the costs of feeding her growing kids.

“The system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked,” he said.

Rashford remembers relying on free school meals, breakfast clubs and the generosity of his coaches. He remembers visiting one particular food bank to collect the family’s Christmas dinner each year.

He knew that keeping kids across the nation fed would become a whole lot harder over the coming weeks. And he decided to do something about it.

Rashford reached out to charities and organizations to find out what could be done to fill the void – and a sizeable void it was, with an estimated 200,000 kids having to skip meals during lockdown because they couldn’t access food.

He decided to team up with FareShare and helped them raise £20 million to provide meals for through a voucher scheme that provided £15 a week to spend in supermarkets for children eligible for free school meals. His efforts saw an incredible three million meals a week distributed.

But then the school year came to an end and the government announced that school meal vouchers would not be provided over the summer. Rashford took it upon himself to address Parliament directly and beg them to change their minds.

This is the story of nine kids in every classroom of 30, he said, and it’s his own story as well. He wrote an impassioned letter about his own experiences and shared stories from the families affected.

He spoke of the school principals paying for food packages themselves because the school debit card was maxed out, of mothers who can’t keep the electricity on, of parents not eating themselves to make sure their kids have full bellies.

And Rashford, a Premier League athlete known across the world for his prowess on the pitch, spoke of knowing that fear and stress himself.

“As a black man from a low-income family in Wythenshawe, Manchester, I could have been just another statistic. Instead, due to the selfless actions of my mum, my family, my neighbors and my coaches, the only stats I’m associated with are goals, appearances and caps,” he wrote.

“I would be doing myself, my family and my community an injustice if I didn’t stand here today with my voice and my platform and ask you for help.”

He begged Members of Parliament to reconsider the decision, but didn’t really expect much to come of it. Even as renowned as Rashford is, he probably didn’t expect a phone call from the prime minister the next day.

Johnson said he was “moved” by the footballer’s actions and words and claimed he hadn’t known about the problem before he saw Rashford discussing it. The government performed an about turn and announced the school meal program would continue.

Thanks to a young man who didn’t forget his roots and never forgot to keep caring, 1.3 million kids will have something to eat this summer. That’s quite an achievement for someone whose talents are supposed to be centered around his feet.

When Euro 2020 kicks off next year, I’m sure he’ll impress the crowd once again with his ball skills, and we’ll all be calling him a hero when the team scores. But this time, we’ll all know that was true long before he set foot on the pitch – and I have a feeling it will stay true long after he hangs up his shirt.

 
 

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