Manchester United and England football player Marcus Rashford has been pushing the Government to fund holiday meals for children from low-income backgrounds as well as sharing stories of local businesses offering to help families via his Twitter account.
MPs voted against making free school meals available outside term time for the next six months, including over the Christmas and Easter holidays.
The Government chose to fund meals over the Easter and summer holidays in the lockdown period but is refusing to shift its stance on extending this provision.
In 2018-19, food bank network the Trussell Trust, provided 1.6m packages of emergency food supplies compared to just 41,000 in 2009. The pandemic and its economic fallout has also caused great financial uncertainty for many families.
Licensee Marc Hornby from the Virgins & Castle in Kenilworth said the pub had almost 50 requests for free packed lunches for this week. "We're so pleased to be able to help in this way, but also really saddened that it was needed," he said.
For the community
"One thing that has overwhelmed us is the support and kind messages from everyone," Hornby continued. "We've even had people offer donations.
"Our social media has lit up and particularly when Marcus Rashford retweeted us over the weekend. We've had messages from people living in Germany, Canada, America and Australia saying they've seen what we're doing and wished us well. While it's a sad topic, we've been really humbled by the huge positivity from everyone.
"First and foremost we're a pub for the community," the operator added. "Yes, we're a business, but we're led by our values and we also make decisions based on doing the right thing.
"We've talked before about the work we do about wellbeing with our team, creating employment with apprenticeships and providing free meals for Kenilworth Covid-19 support group. We saw a problem and we wanted to be part of the solution and it's been incredible how the community of Kenilworth have got together behind this initiative."
Another pub helping out is the Caxton Arms in Brighton, which is offering bowls of pasta to eat in or takeaway.
"We just want to do our bit to help out in these tough times and having seen the news, it was the least we could do," operator Brett Mendoza (pictured) said. "No one should go hungry, least of all kids."
Additionally, the Almondsbury Sports and Social Club in Bristol distributed 840 meals across 120 free school meal packs over the weekend.
"During lockdown we were delivering about 100 hot meals every Thursday to those in need so this seemed a natural thing to do," operator Garth Jackson said. "It’s important that people recognise the importance of the hot meal, rather than a packed lunch. For many children living with poverty, the school meal is their only hot meal of the day, so I think it’s vital that we try and replicate that.
"The key point for me is that this is treating the symptoms, what we need to do as an industry is to try and help the causes such as mental health issues, finance management, cooking and nutritional skills. It’s so good to be part of an industry full of so many amazing people who overcome every hurdle put in front of us."
Humbled by support
The Handsworth Inn in Sheffield will also provide food parcels for entire families after customers helped to donate bread, butter, ham and cheese.
Operator Amber Barstow said: “We have been so overwhelmed and humbled by the amazing support we have received from our community and beyond, and I am delighted that we can turn this awareness into real help for the people who need it the most.
“We’ll be prioritising those who are eligible for free school meals, but we want to help anyone and everyone who needs it, so we want to encourage people to get in touch and let us know if they need support. No one, especially children, should ever go hungry.”
Although operating restrictions have presented a uniquely difficult winter ahead for pubs, operators said the tough year had made it feel even more important to help those in need.
Ellis Pannell runs the Pyne Arms in Barnstaple, North Devon, and said: "We have been so well supported throughout lockdown, it’s the least we can do to support others in need."