Local to the rescue: south west London businesses provide free meals to children in need over half-term

Richmond Rugby Club, The Shack and Big Smoke Brew Co. join the surge of local businesses offering meals to children eligible for free school lunches.

This follows 322 MPs voting against the proposal to extend the voucher scheme for vulnerable children and struggling families and local councils and businesses across the country have rushed to fill the void.

Footballer Marcus Rashford MBE, who is leading a campaign against child hunger, has been using his Twitter account to share the details of the many businesses offering to feed children over the half-term break.

Richmond Rugby Club will be supplying free nutritional meals to more than 50 children during half-term week, continuing the work they did over July, August and September in their Summer Meals Initiative.

One child they will be helping is the primary carer for his mother, who has multiple sclerosis. He and his sister rely heavily upon free school meals.

Richmond Rugby Club will provide free school meals to children with help from the local community
GOOD NEIGHBOURS: Many residents have volunteered to help Richmond Rugby Club with the initiative

Dom Palacio, head of community rugby, said: “It’s about helping in any way you can, and minimising the food poverty on your doorstep.

“The gratitude from parents and families has been so humbling.

“Everyone sees Richmond as this affluent, leafy green area when the reality is, anywhere in London – there will be some areas where someone is really struggling.

“It’s crazy that we are one of the top economies in the world and we still have food poverty.”

The Shack in Twickenham will also be taking up the mantle to feed hungry children, as they plan to give out 1,000 free meals and will offer two hot options as well as a sandwich alternative.

Owner Adam Saword, who has five children between the ages of two and 14, said: “No child should go to bed hungry.”

He and co-owner Murray Laird, who also has two children, hope their venue will provide easy access for struggling families as it’s a few minutes’ walk from Twickenham train station, and has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating.  

The Shack is one south-west London business which will give out 1,000 free meals
ROOM FOR EVERYONE: The Shack can accommodate plenty of customers and has a large outdoor seating area

Saword, who lived in Twickenham for ten years, commented: “We all have a social responsibility to help in any way we can.

“The community response has been amazing – so many people are getting behind this.”

Greengrocers P Cooper & Sons, based in Twickenham, have said they will provide fresh fruit and vegetables for the initiative, while Richmond Waitrose have also contacted The Shack to offer their help.

Both Richmond Rugby Club and The Shack have said they will continue the initiative at Christmas if needed, keeping government Covid-19 guidelines in mind.

Big Smoke Brew Co. is a brewery primarily based in south west London and will also be giving out 1,000 free, healthy lunches to children and families struggling over the half-term period.

They will have collection points at their pubs in Hammersmith, Surbiton, and Kingston, as well as in their other locations outside of London in Chichester, Weybridge and Wokingham.

Big Smoke Brew Co. is one local business which will give out 1,000 free meals
HERE TO HELP: Big Smoke Brew Co. will have collection points at all six of their pubs

Rich Craig, who launched Big Smoke Brew Co. with his business partner James Morgan in 2014, said: “In response to the government’s decision not to help feed kids whose parents are struggling over half term, we have decided to contribute in our own small way.

“We’ll be donating 1000 free, healthy lunches to anyone who needs them, no questions asked.”

Since the announcement, one person handed over £1,000 cash to the Wokingham branch to help with the scheme.

This is not the first-time south west businesses have stepped up to help in a time of crisis.

During the summer holiday period, Richmond Rugby Club received funding from the London Community Response Fund which they used to provide the free meals, set up food bank collection schemes outside Twickenham Rugby Stadium, and refurbish several old laptops for families who needed them for online school and work during lockdown.

Despite facing a lot of economic difficulty over the Coronavirus pandemic, the club will be bringing back the same 14 volunteers who helped with the summer scheme, including their catering staff, and will be providing the meals in recyclable packaging to help reduce waste.

Richmond Rugby Club offered free lunches over the summer as well
NOT THE FIRST TIME: Many residents also volunteered to help Richmond Rugby Club provide free lunches over the summer

Palacio, who lives in Walton-on-Thames and has been at the club for four years, explained: “The easy thing to do would have been to do nothing, as we’re under so much financial pressure, but we decided we would make it work.

“The generosity from residents has been incredible – lots of people have already donated to help us. If anyone else can help, we’d really appreciate it.

“It’s just a shame that it’s down to us and the local community to do this.”

All three businesses have stressed they want to make the process as easy and comfortable as possible, and will ensure the process is strictly confidential.

The Shack owner Saword explained: “We don’t personally want the publicity – we just want people to know that we’re here to help.”

The Shack will be providing the meals between 12-2pm, and you can email them on [email protected] or phone them on 02088 923328.

You can email Big Smoke Brew Co. on [email protected] to let them know how many meals you will require.

For more information on Richmond Rugby Club’s scheme, you can contact Dom Palaccio on [email protected].

You can also donate to the Richmond Rugby Community Department here.

A Wimbledon shopping centre also donated nearly £4000 in food vouchers.

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