Takeley mum Amber Wright spends half term making free hot meals for families in need after her MP Kemi Badenoch votes against extending school meals holiday provision
A young mother appalled by the Government and her own MP's decision to end free school meal provision during holidays this week launched her own free food delivery service for families in need.
Amber Wright, 25, who runs her own bakery business from her Takeley home, is spending every day this half term cooking hot meals.
She was spurred on by England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford's campaign for continued support for vulnerable youngsters during the Covid-19 pandemic and decided to take matters into her own hands.
Her action prompted a flood of support from businesses and individuals across Bishop's Stortford and Uttlesford, who over the weekend rallied to ensure children would not go hungry, donating ingredients and pledging support with deliveries. Other catering businesses joined in to offer free meals.
Takeley Primary School spread the word among its community as did Bishop's Stortford and Uttlesford food banks, the latter supplying soup to add to Amber's menu, while Felsted Prep School has offered her free use of its kitchens over the Christmas holidays. Saffron Walden County High School staff have reportedly paid to feed pupils in need over the holidays too.
Amber said the vote by the area's two Conservative MPs – Bishop's Stortford's Julie Marson and Saffron Walden's Kemi Badenoch – against extending free school meal provision was "disgusting".
She was not alone with this view. Protestors targeted Mrs Badenoch's Saffron Walden constituency office, sticking a poster to the window with the words "Our Tory MP voted against feeding children this half term". This was quickly superseded by a poster from the film musical Oliver! and the famous line "Please, sir, I want some more".
Amber said that having struggled herself as a young, single mum, she knew what it was like to be in need and had been left feeling very emotional by the outpouring of support she had received.
"After seeing Marcus Rashford's campaign getting rejected it broke my heart that in this day and age the Government was refusing to keep free meals going. I think it's absolutely disgusting and I don't understand why our MP voted against it, so I took it upon myself, as I own my own business and have a five-star food rating, to offer food to anyone who needs it.
"I've been overwelmed with offers of help. People have offered to supply ingredients or donate money towards ingredients and I've been so emotional over the last few days where so many have offered to help – it's just amazing," she said.
Amber said that six families and some elderly residents had so far asked for help, adding: "But I know there are so many more people around here that need our help. Don't be too proud or embarrassed to ask, there's nothing to be embarrassed about. I've been in that situation – I was 19 when I had my daughter and was on my own, and I just want to help others that need it."
Amber, who lives in Russell Francis Way, is engaged to Chris Hardy and has a daughter Darcie, 5, and son Frankie, 1. She said celebrity chef Jamie Oliver helped to inspire her bakery business after he visited his former secondary school in Newport (now Joyce Frankland Academy) while Amber was a pupil there to give lessons on bread-making.
Her menu includes pasta bakes, chicken nuggets and chips, and jacket potatoes with a variety of fillings, accompanied by freshly baked bread and fresh vegetables.
"These meals are being prepared by myself each day in half term and will be delivered to your door or you can collect. This is not just for people in Takeley, this is for the surrounding villages and towns as well. Please, please I urge you to get in contact via Facebook, text or email."
Amber can be reached on 07534 817914 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can also be made via her gofundme page .
She thanked the following people and companies for their support: Lindsey Powles (Essex Fresh – Fruit & Veg), Gaynor Quinlin (COOK n GO), Lisa Hawkeswood (Takeley Ironing), Rachael Corr (E Corr & LPL), Ladlers Red Poll, Tracy Garforth (Priors Green Childcare), Lizzie Warwick (The Tasty Turkey Company), Liane Martin (Priors Hall Farm), Vicky Milano (Tesco Express Little Canfield), Dave (Window Repair Guy), Simon James (Felsted Prep School) and Louise Holt (cupcakesbylou).
In a statement issued on Monday (Oct 26) Mrs Badenoch said that "despite the malevolent insinuations made by opposition members and news outlets", Tory MPs did not vote to take free school meals from children and it was "disgraceful" that some had chosen to politicise such an important matter in this way.
"It is heartening to see so many businesses offering to help families, however it must be stressed that this is in addition to Government support and not instead of it. The Government chose to support vulnerable families by funding councils directly instead of using vouchers, which can often be stigmatising. Councils know their communities best."
She added: "In June, we allocated them an additional £63m as part of a welfare assistance fund to ensure they were able to help those struggling financially as a result of the crisis, including those on free school meals. Essex County Council received over £1.4 million of this to distribute locally. That money was to last till the end of October and already covered the half-term period.
"Since the start of the pandemic ECC has received over £127m directly in additional funding, and last week the Government announced a further £1 billion of additional support for councils to help local people and Essex received over £11.7m of this.
"There are many ways to support vulnerable children and families. Free school meal vouchers are just one of them and they don’t always target those most in need. It's shameful that some people have chosen to exploit these families for their own personal gain."