BUSINESSES and food banks are stepping up to offer support for vulnerable children around Oxfordshire after Tory MPs voted against providing free meals out of term time.

On Thursday, Oxfordshire MPs voted down footballer Marcus Rashford's bid to extend free school meals for disadvantaged children over the upcoming half-term holiday until the Easter holiday next year.

All of Oxfordshire's Tory MPs: John Howell (Henley), Robert Courts (Witney), David Johnston (Wantage) and Victoria Prentis (Banbury and North Oxfordshire), voted against the Labour proposal, which was defeated by 322 votes to 261.

In Oxfordshire, 10,127 children are eligible for free school meals – and are now at risk of going hungry over the holiday.

Foodbanks said they had already seen a rise in demand from cash-strapped families and local businesses have offered to help feed hungry children.

Agata Towpik, owner of Wantage café Marcopolo was appalled by the Government’s decision. Ms Towpik and her husband were so outraged they decided to provide kid’s meals for just £1 over half term.

Ms Towpik said: “What the Government has done is disgusting; there is no money for people and vulnerable kids who need the food the most.

“We decided that because its half-term we will be offering £1 lunches. Soon after we announced this, someone donated £30 to allow us to offer free meals over the holidays. Another person donated £50 – so we have 80 free meals available for vulnerable children.

“The Government really should think about the most vulnerable. We do not know how long it will take to sort out this Covid situation. So many people have lost jobs, so there should be money for free meals for kids.

“If the Government cannot offer to help vulnerable children, local people and businesses will. We need to support each other."

She added: “We have had the business for 10 years and our customers are loyal, and we want to support them. We will do our part to support each other and whatever we can do we will.”

Hilary Beale, a coordinator at Abingdon Foodbank, said the service was already seeing the impact of not having food vouchers over half-term.

Read here: How did Oxfordshire MPs vote to extend free school meals?

She said: “We have already had three new families come in asking for food. In the past, we have done things over summer holidays for families like this but of course the Government helped fund some families over the summer.

“It is disappointing that the Government is not recognising that people are in need. It would be nice if they could recognise that families are stretched.

Oxford Mail:

Gabriele Kokolovaite, manager at Marcopolo

“Families have been keeping things ticking over since Covid began, hoping they can get back to work, but the strain on families has become immense. Some families have split up, which also adds to the expense and creates a difficult time all around.

“The Government could address this issue if they increased benefits.”

Jane Benyon, founder of the Community Emergency Foodbank, in Bladon, near Woodstock, is also concerned.

She said: “The school lunches in the summer made a huge difference. The number of families coming to the food bank were much lower than they had been previously.

Read more: Over 10,000 kids in Oxfordshire are eligible for free meals

"This move is bound to make a difference, particularly over the Christmas holidays.

“Half term is already here, but if nothing changes we will see what we can do over Christmas.”

Read here: Oxfordshire MPs respond to free school meal vote

Some large foods and restaurant chains have lined up to support Mr Rashford’s campaign. McDonald’s announced yesterday it would be providing a million free meals for families in need.

The restaurant chain Wildwood is offering £1 meals for children over the half-term break.

* Are you a business or organisation doing something to help feed children? Please contact the Oxford Mail newsdesk on