English footballer Marcus Rashford has praised local communities for stepping in to provide free meals to children during the school holidays, but some Tory MPs have been accused over controversial comments on the subject.
The Manchester United player's thanks came as councils, including Conservative-run bodies, announced mid-term stop-gap measures and a Tory mayor criticised the UK government's "last-minute" decision-making on children's free meals funding.
Rashford, 22, said he is "truly overwhelmed" by the support his campaign has received, after parliament rejected proposals to provide free meals to vulnerable children during the school holidays.
The striker's online petition had garnered more than 660,000 signatures by this morning and the number continued to rise rapidly.
Among the businesses and organisations around the country who offered free food were tea rooms, churches, farms and takeaways.
In a statement to BBC Newsnight, Rashford said: "Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell.
"I couldn't be more proud to call myself British."
But Tory MP for North Devon Selaine Saxby sparked anger after comments on local businesses giving free food away.
A screenshot of a since-removed post in her name on Facebook said: "I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support."
The MP later claimed her comments were "out of context" and added: "I of course deeply regret any offence which may have been caused."
Her party colleague Ben Bradley also said a tweet he sent, which prompted accusations that he was stigmatising working class families, was "totally taken out of context".
There has been a call for an apology after the MP for Mansfield replied to a tweet in which another user described the free school meals programme as "£20 cash direct to a crack den and a brothel", with the Tory writing: "That's what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did..."
Mr Bradley later claimed he was trying to say that giving children who live in "chaotic" situations an "unrestricted voucher to spend on whatever isn't helpful".
But Labour MPs have pointed out the vouchers in summer could only be used to buy food.
If you can do one thing for me tonight, sign the petition ????https://t.co/FvvpO71zOv— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) October 20, 2020
It's time we put party politics aside and worked together to find a long-term sustainable solution to child food poverty in the UK.
Implement the 3 asks.
I appreciate you all ♥?