Rashford spurs on united stand against hunger in Hollinwood

Date published: 06 November 2020

Remembering their own disadvantaged pasts in Bangladesh, plus support for Marcus Rashford's goal of tackling child poverty, has inspired a community group to provide 750 free meals for children and ensure young people keep contact with family members.

The SPARC (Shahjalal Physical Activeness and Recreational Club) has introduced a packed programme of good works that has included getting 11-year-old Aleesa Ali to speak online with her grandmother after traditional Friday afternoon prayers.

And for her grandmother Monwara, that engagement has been a life-line – as she has recently battled pneumonia and has seen her new grandson just once since he was born.

“My grandmother has only held my baby brother once” said Yew Tree Community School student Aleesa, who has been helping pack lunches for children at the Relish eatery on Trough Gate during her holidays.

“She has asthma and finds it hard to breathe.

"I speak to her on Facetime and sometimes I wave hello through the window.”

Encouraging older folks to use online communications has been one of the chief achievements of the SPARC campaign.

Other good works include:

• Delivering 30 meals to vulnerable people during lockdown

• Presenting free biriyani dishes to NHS staff at the climax of the COVID crisis

• Offering a listening ear and signposting those coming for free meals to services that could help them

• Raising awareness of mental health issues in the community and of course,

• Operating the meals service over the half-term break

Some of those buying and cooking the food had to take unpaid leave from jobs at organisations including Oldham and Stockport Councils to help the SPARC drive.

The only thing more remarkable than the volunteers said Syed Maruf Ali, who works by day at the North Chadderton School, was the extraordinary generosity of those who donated to the cause, who included a pensioner who gave bottles of water to the campaign, even though, said Syed, “she barely had enough to look after herself.”

He continued: “I arrived in Britain in 1986 and have memories of the hardship and desperation myself.

"But we never felt sorry for ourselves and we don't point fingers, either.

"We wanted to make a positive change and I think we have really stepped-up.”

One of those supported by the drive is Philip (not his real name), a grandfather of five who lost his job a couple of years ago.

He said: “My son isn't working but he doesn't want to bring my grandchildren to Relish, because he feels ashamed.

"The lockdown has brought uncertainty and we have really struggled.

"This project has really helped us though, and I don't know how we would have fed the children without it.”

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