England striker Marcus Rashford said he would fight on after the government confirmed it would not provide free school meal vouchers during the summer.
The Manchester United player wrote an emotional open letter to MPs in which he said “the system isn’t built for families like mine to succeed”.
But the Department for Education said it would not reverse its decision.
Rashford, 22, responded by tweeting “we aren’t beaten yet” and “MPs, please #maketheUturn”.
Rashford has raised about £20m to supply three million meals to vulnerable people while working with charity FareShare UK during the coronavirus lockdown.
Campaigners have threatened to bring legal action against the government for not extending the food voucher scheme into the summer holidays.
In his letter, Rashford drew on his own experience of relying on free school meals and food banks growing up. He said his story was “all too familiar for families in England”.
Sonja from Basingstoke, who has three teenage children, told BBC Radio 5 live Drive she found herself out of work because of the pandemic and does not start her new job until September. She said she was in “real trouble” without the vouchers in the meantime.
“I’m relying on the £60 I get every fortnight from free school meal vouchers to do my food shopping,” she said.
“There are lots of us out there that have found ourselves on benefits through no fault of our own. We really are struggling to make ends meet and I’m not sure too many people understand how difficult it is – Marcus obviously does.”
Gary Lineker told BBC Newsnight he was “very impressed” with Rashford’s efforts.
He said he understands that “kids wouldn’t ordinarily be fed during the summer holidays”, but these are “very, very difficult times”.
‘Written from the heart’
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Rashford said: “It’s written from the heart and it’s about how my life was at the moment – the letter is to open up and let people understand the impact on families and to know I’ve done the right thing.
“What families are going through now, I’ve once had to go through that – and it’s very difficult to find a way out. It’s very important for me to help people who are struggling – whether the outcome changes or doesn’t change, that’s why I wrote it.”
The Department for Education said: “As schools open more widely, and their kitchens reopen, we expect schools to make food parcels available for collection or delivery for any children that are eligible for free school meals who are not yet able to return to school.
“Where this is not possible, schools can continue to offer vouchers to eligible pupils.”
A spokesperson also pointed to the new £63m local authority welfare assistance scheme to support the most vulnerable families, and its Holiday Activities and Food programme, which offers activities and free meals in the summer holidays.
Families claiming free school meals have been issued with either an electronic voucher or gift card – worth £15 per child, per week – to spend at supermarkets, while schools have been closed.