LONDON Ė Marcus Rashford is the best soccer player in the world, but itís not down to his goal against Paris Saint-Germain nor what he does when he dons a Manchester United shirt.
Marcus Rashford is the best in the world because this player, who grew up in poverty, has become the face of the campaign against child hunger in the United Kingdom and led the charge against a government that has refused to extend free school meals to vulnerable children over the holiday period.
At just 22-years-old, his campaign has been backed by dozens of local restaurants, councils and city halls across England, all eager to do their part to make sure that no child goes hungry when schools close for half-term. As a child, Rashford himself would rely on school meals.
With the country reeling from the COVID-19 lockdown, back in June the player launched a national campaign to extend free school meals over the summer holiday period and forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make a U-turn on his policy.
But the problem didnít end there. The first term of school is drawing to a close but before it does there is still the matter of the October and Christmas holidays, an anxiety-ridden period for many struggling families concerned about providing hot meals.
The free school meals program in the UK usually has at least one meal covered per day.
And so Rashford has launched another petition, which has since garnered more than 400,000 signatures, calling on the government to step in once again. But this time Johnsonís Conservative Party refused. A total of 322 MPs voted it down in the House of Commons.
According to data provided by Rashford, who was awarded an MBE this year for his charitable work, nine in every 30 school children in UK classrooms are living in poverty.
The overall number of pupils living in poverty could grow to one million by 2020, although the latest wide-ranging studies were conducted before the pandemic and the results are liable to worsen.
Despite the government voting against his initiative, Rashford pushed on. On Thursday he and his mother went to help out with the food poverty initiative Fareshare.
What he didnít know at the time was that his plea had attracted a growing audience.
Schools, local restaurants and even town councils said they would offer food to replace free school meals over the holiday period.
Restaurants in Bolton, Liverpool, Sheffield and councils in London and Manchester Ė his home city Ė announced their support on social media.
The list grew longer as dozens of establishments joined in, filling a void left by a government accused of being more interested in political battles than ensuring that the countryís children do not go to bed hungry every night.
In a year without the Ballon díOr, Rashford has become the best soccer player in the world.