EFFORTS to feed Bradford’s most vulnerable families are set to continue into the second lockdown following high demand for free school meals.

In response to footballers Marcus Rashford's defeated motion in Parliament, community centres and voluntary organisations became a "lifeline" for hundreds of children, refugees and hard-to-reach families.

As the news came through, Bradford Foundation Trust's Shadim Hussain mobilised an army of volunteers to both cook, deliver and arrange collection points for free meals in a matter of hours. These Bradfordians, who he describes as "unsung heroes", were made up of kind strangers, business owners and other organisations.

In one week, the trust put 8,000 meals on the family's tables, in the form of hot food or fresh ingredients kindly donated by Pakeezah, Kana Peena and Manchester Superstore.

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But as a second lockdown looms, the trust must act fast to cope with a predicted rise in demand.

In the first wave, it supported more than 300 destitute households in Bradford in 12 weeks as part of the Covid-19 response team.

As opposed to distributing food parcels, now shopkeepers are expected to take part in a voucher scheme, allowing families to choose meals that suit them and create "dignity".

Shadim explained: "They never know what's going to be in there and it may not be to their liking in terms of their ethnicity and heritage. The choice you get in Bradford is either white British or Pakistani. Instead of doing that, if we were to give people vouchers to go to the store in their neighbourhood, they could buy the items they need.

"It gives people the dignity of doing their own thing. That's what is in talks at the moment."

Looking back over the half-term, he added: "The thing that never ceases to amaze me in Bradford is people's generosity and how quickly people react. We had 58 volunteers, they did 900 hours between them. There's something about Bradford, whether it's our history of poverty, our diversity, that we just step up and get on with things. There's a can-do attitude here and that's what's special about Bradford.

"8,000 meals is just a testament to the generosity. The coming together of all these different people, whether it's business men or women, people from faith groups or community groups."

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Elsewhere across the district, Girlington Community Centre delivered 1,000 meals while Inspire Futures Foundation sent out food packs to 30-60 families a day.

Mushtaq Hussain, the founder of Inspire Futures Foundation, will be continuing its food parcels throughout the second wave.

The charity, which received donations from businesses and shops, made packs which allowed parents to cook for their own families.

"Most of them were teary eyed because they were that appreciative they were still supported," he explained.

"We've got Syrian and Somalian refugees who don't feel like they can get involved in centre's because they don't feel part of Bradford. These communities felt really isolated. The children really enjoyed meeting us, taking the food packs out of our cars. They felt appreciated and welcomed. They felt this was something different. They felt like this was a welcoming embrace. It was us putting our arms around, that warm, warm feeling.

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"There's a growing need for people struggling, they can't even get basic needs on their table for their children."

Nadera Amini of NAFS Fitness employed a team of volunteers for the week to help cook meals for the surrounding areas, a move that gave many a sense of belonging.

Based at Frizinghall Community Centre, the pick-up point was decorated with balloons while volunteers cooked up visually-fun meals to bring a smile to family's faces; like rainbow rice, made with sweet rice, raisins, cocunut, butter and cherries.

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"We work for the people with the people because they understand what it feels like, what hunger means and what a difference one warm meal makes," she said.

"Lots of the mothers told us they felt ashamed to go somewhere [for food]. The pandemic brought a lot of financial problems, even working families. A lot of South Asian mum's specifically, people talk around them. They were vulnerable.

"When we're hungry we feel vulnerable, we feel sad.

"We really wanted nutritional food and for everybody's needs. It was halal.

"Women have so many skills in them. It's just the time and circumstances. We recruited them for this week, I said 'We'll pay for your work and you are giving back to the community in a good way'."

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Councillor Fozia Shaheen and a group of friends worked with Rubina Burhan, manager of Girlington Centre, to get the parcels out to children as part of a play group.

Cllr Shaheen described her as a "real community hero".

The parcels also went to refugees who may be struggling to fund meals as well as families who had children with special needs.

She continued: “She said they will be running a play scheme for the children, at least 30 children there but different groups, maintaining social distancing and the Government guidelines. We provided fresh, hot meals from Monday to Sunday. All the other meals were delivered to people.

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"You just feel Bradford is always there to help and support. People in Bradford have hearts of gold when it comes to charity work.

"It's fantastic to receive feedback from the parents.

"In the pandemic, people are struggling, it was such a shocking decision. This just shows the strength of communities, the strength of local businesses."

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