CUMBRIAN businesses have moved to show their support to families in need of extra help this half term.

Despite most of the county’s MPs voting against a motion to provide free school meals during the holidays until Easter 2021, tearooms, cafes and pubs have stepped up.

Meanwhile, Carlisle Community Help’s Affordable Food Hub – which provided 23,500 school lunch parcels to children in Carlisle normally in receipt of free school meals, or newly vulnerable because of the pandemic during the summer – has relaunched its lunch scheme.

Angel Lane Chippie in Penrith is among those wanting to help and is offering 100 free children's meals of sausage and chips every day next week, while North Lakes Foods is providing cartons of milk to go with them.

“It comes with disbelief that 322 of our MPs voted to reject the motion to provide meals to families that need it most this half term. This year has been extra hard for lots of us,” said chippie owner Dan Harding.

“We care so much for our community, a community that has supported us through these hard times. We would like to give a little something back.”

Berry’s Tearoom in Brampton is offering free packed lunches to those in need and the Sunny Hill Pub in Whitehaven is providing free meals to families struggling in the area.

Steve Carney, owner of Old Hall Cafe in Carlisle, was saddened that MPs voted against the motion supporting Marcus Rashford’s child food poverty campaign.

Through the summer holidays, he and a team of volunteers provided 7,500 hot school meals to Petteril Bank schoolchildren in receipt of free school meals. He also volunteered to deliver food parcels to local people.

“It wasn’t just the children that were on free school meals it was other children as well who needed that little bit of help.

“I do think there is a need for it and more so when you’ve got both parents working but who are just over the threshold and aren’t entitled to free school meals but they don’t get many benefits.

“We found that they were the ones really struggling.

“It’s like a lifeline to some of them when they are receiving the food parcels and even the school meals. We were taking them round and you could see it was needed," said Mr Carney.

“It pulls at the heartstrings when you see children looking forward to a hot meal. I know a lot of the parents we were delivering to and they were ever so grateful.

“For MPs to vote against it I just think it’s all wrong. I think what Marcus Rashford is doing trying to get it in the holidays, it’s the way forward at this present time."

During half term Mr Carney is making family-size pies available at a discounted price.

Copeland MP Trudy Harrison and her Conservative colleagues John Stevenson, MP for Carlisle, and Mark Jenkinson, MP for Workington, have defended their position, stressing low-income families are being supported through the welfare system and other means.

Mrs Harrison recognised it has been an "incredibly challenging" time and said offering free school meals during the summer was the right thing to do.

“With schools now reopened, the best way to help families is through Universal Credit, and the £9bn funding boost into the welfare system in March is providing families with an extra £1,000 per year," she said. “The Government is wholly committed to ensuring young people have the skills and opportunities to succeed, as well as guaranteeing children who are eligible for free school meals will continue to receive them, should they be required to self isolate.

“The £63 million funding for local authorities to offer emergency assistance to families who require meals and essentials is absolutely vital, and I welcome the extension of the scheme to families who have no access to public funds, as well as the commitment to establishing a £1 billion Covid catch-up plan, allowing schools to offer extra help to children most impacted by the pandemic."

Karen Lockney, of Carlisle Community Help, said: “It should not be up to the volunteer work of groups like ours, or the intervention of footballers like Marcus Rashford, to come to the rescue.

“Our elected representatives should be taking action to help people in their time of need.”

The group is pledging to be part of discussions locally to tackle holiday hunger and wants to work with local government and other community groups to ensure no child goes hungry.