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Black History Month: Marcus Rashford feeds a nation

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During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Marcus Rashford decided to stand up and fight for the children of the United Kingdom.

Manchester United v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Marcus Rashford, to many, is known as the young star forward for Manchester United and the England men’s national team. He has scored 83 goals in 248 appearances for the Red Devils and 11 goals in 40 caps with the Three Lions. However, despite being all of 23 years old and already making such an impact on the field for club and country, his biggest achievement has already taken place off the field.

One of Marcus’ main passions is giving back, particularly to provide meals and other essential items to the vulnerable across England. Growing up in Manchester, his mother had to work multiple jobs to provide for his family. She couldn’t afford enough food for all of them to eat, so she would skip meals to make sure Marcus and his brothers got enough. Because of that, his focus was always to do what he could to ensure children across England would always have enough to eat.

In October 2019, he set up In The Box, a campaign with a major department store in England to give homeless people essential items to get them through the holidays. He toured homeless shelters with his mother, personally handing out boxes to people. He also sent boxes to a children’s home in St. Kitts and Nevis, his grandmother’s native country. Despite what is an enormous gesture, the campaign didn’t get any real traction. So, Marcus stepped up his efforts.

At the beginning of the lockdowns imposed in response to the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, Rashford decided to team up with a charity to deliver meals to children in Manchester who weren’t getting food from the free school meal program. He also focused on children in underserved communities who attended school breakfast clubs to get their meals. His target: 400,000 children, and he went all in. These were children that relied on going to school to get their meals, easing the strain on families who couldn’t afford more than 1 meal each day. With schools closed due to the lockdown, children did not have access to those free meals, and the government was not providing an avenue for children to get the meals they relied on to get through the day. There was a need, and Marcus Rashford tried to satisfy that need for so many children.

The initiative raised £20 million in short order. By June, Rashford announced that his program had reached 3 million children across England. Marcus didn’t stop there. He knew he needed to do more. “[W]hilst I’m celebrating this, there is so much more to do. Trust me when I say, I will keep fighting until no child in the UK has to worry about where their next meal is coming from. This is England in 2020 and families need help.”

On June 15, 2020, Marcus Rashford wrote a letter directly to the government, imploring them to change their policy and do what they can to end child poverty. He closed with a powerful plea to Members of Parliament:

“The Government has taken a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to the economy - I’m asking you today to extend that same thinking to protecting all vulnerable children across England. I encourage you to hear their pleas and find your humanity. Please reconsider your decision to cancel the food voucher scheme over the Summer holiday period and guarantee the extension.”

One day later, the government decided to reverse course, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the free school meal program would be extended during the summer holiday. Rashford’s efforts were credited as being the catalyst behind the change in policy. Johnson thanked Marcus for his efforts in “bringing attention to this issue” during his announcement, adding, “Clearly free schools meals should generally apply in term time... but we have to understand the pressure that families are under right now...It will help the kids from the families that really need it.”

Marcus Rashford had done it. His efforts had singlehandedly caused the British government to provide meals to every kid in the country that needed it. Scotland and Wales followed England’s lead, and Northern Ireland soon followed. That night, Marcus tweeted out a thank you statement to Members of Parliament:

In October 2020, his efforts were recognized by the Queen of England, as he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). It’s a title that he carries for life: Marcus Rashford, MBE. That hasn’t stopped Rashford from continuing his great work to end child food poverty in England as well as providing food and essentials to impoverished people all around the country. When it came to Marcus Rashford’s activism in support of ending child poverty, Ian Byrne, a Member of Parliament put it best: “It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a Manchester United striker’s name will be sung on the Kop and the Gwladys Street. He has the sort of principles and moral values that most people hold.”

Marcus Rashford continues to use those principles to guide him in helping those who need it most. And bringing meals to millions of impoverished children will undoubtedly be the greatest goal he’s ever scored.

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For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing a story each day this month to highlight some of the biggest moments in black American and world soccer history.