Mesut Özil gives out free school meals as football tackles child food poverty

The Arsenal star funded 1,200 meals to children in North London as players, clubs and fans continue to join campaign to ensure no kids go hungry

Mesut Özil is the latest footballer to take action to end child food poverty as Marcus Rashford continues to inspire players, clubs and supporters to stop kids without free school meals going hungry over half term.

Arsenal midfielder Özil has donated hot food to more than 1,000 children in the London boroughs of Barnet and Enfield, as well as Potters Bar in Hertfordshire.

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Özil teamed up with Barnet Sunday League and Stefan Pappert, the head chef at Wembley Stadium’s Three Lions pub, to provide hot food daily to pupils eligible for free school meals.

The trio launched a GoFundMe page last week and raised more than £3,500 to deliver 1,200 meals to 12 schools this morning with the service pencilled in to continue throughout half-term.

The Wroxham School in Potters Bar received 20 meals, which were distributed to families in need within a couple of hours. Headteacher Roger Billing said: “For some of our families this means everything. It’s the difference between their children having a nutritious hot meal or not. For parents, it means they don’t have to worry so much for the rest of this week.

“Lockdown was difficult and challenging but it brought out this incredible sense of community and it’s important that we don’t lose this. The way that Marcus Rashford has encouraged everyone to come together for this important cause is inspiring and it’s something we definitely need to hold on to.”

Ozil’s fellow Premier League footballer Rashford has continued to campaign for children to be fed during the school holidays since Labour’s parliamentary motion was voted down last week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defended his government’s stance to not continue providing free school meals to children over the half-term holidays, despite warnings from the Local Government Association that “demand has outstripped the £63m funding” issued in July to help local authorities. Yesterday he said: “I totally understand the issue of holiday hunger. The debate is, how do you deal with it.”

The government is facing increasing pressure from Rashford, campaigners and even some Conservative MPs to ensure children receive meals over the Christmas school holidays. Johnson promised to “do everything in our power to make sure that no kid, no child goes hungry”.

In the meantime, the football world, alongside charities, community groups and volunteers, has responded to keep children fed with Crewe Alexandra, Luton Town and Rashford’s own Manchester United the latest clubs stepping up support.

And fans have also turned the controversial £14.95 charge to watch Premier League games into fundraising for food banks and other food poverty tackling charities, raising £300,000 across the 20 clubs.

Another Premier League footballer who has stood up for food banks, Liverpool’s Andy Robertson, is also using his time to help homeless people during the pandemic.

Robertson helped out at a food bank in Liverpool and donated funds to six food banks in Scotland at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic back in March.

Now the Scotland captain has been announced as an ambassador for Street Soccer Scotland, the charity behind the Scottish Homeless World Cup teams, run by Big Issue Changemaker David Duke.

Robertson is SSS’s second ambassador – joining Sir Alex Ferguson – and he will visit SSS’s players to provide counsel and offer coaching and life advice. Robertson said: “The positive influence football has on many of our lives should not be underestimated, especially during these difficult times. I’ve seen first-hand the amazing work that Street Soccer Scotland is doing to help those in need and it’s an honour to be an ambassador for an incredible charity that is playing a significant role in not only my hometown of Glasgow but across the whole country.”

Duke, founder and CEO of Street Soccer Scotland, added: “I’ve worked with Andy a lot over the last few months – he is a good guy with a big heart. He’s always looking for ways to get involved in the community and give back to those who need it the most, so it’s brilliant to officially have him on board in an ambassador role.”

Image: James Marsh/BPI/Shutterstock