A MAGNIFICENT community effort unfolded in Darlington today to make sure hundreds of local children don’t go hungry.

A large team of volunteers turned out at the Town Hall to fill 300 bags of free food to provide school meals in an initiative co-ordinated by Darlington Cares, in partnership with The Bread and Butter Thing charity.

And Darlington Borough Council leader, Councillor Heather Scott, revealed that the local authority would be providing additional funding to make sure the emergency support continues.

Today’s remarkable community effort was initiated by Teesside University student Sarah Weston, who lives in Darlington.

Sarah decided she needed to act after hearing about a child at a local school who had sandwiches with no filling in their lunch box.

“It was just bread and butter – that’s all,” said Sarah. “It kept me awake, worrying about it, and I just thought, this can’t continue.”

Sarah set up a JustGiving page, appealed for support through social media, and quickly generated £900.

She then contacted the First Stop charity, which in turn got in touch with the Darlington Cares organisation. Within 24 hours, today’s community response had been arranged with the support of The Bread and Butter Thing – a pioneering charity that distributes surplus food, mainly from supermarkets, to local communities.

The Bread and Butter Thing was launched in Manchester in 2016 and, earlier this year, Darlington Cares arranged for the scheme to be extended to Darlington, with significant financial support from local companies, Darlington Building Society and Cummins, as well as Darlington Borough Council.

Community hubs have been set up in Darlington during the lockdown, with families paying £7.50 for food bags which would normally cost £35. However, the food provided by today’s community initiative was entirely free.

 “I am completely overwhelmed,” said Sarah. “I can’t believe the way it snowballed so quickly, and the result is that hundreds of children won’t go hungry. That’s just amazing.”

Additional support was provided by another local charity, the 700 Club, St Augustine’s Church, and local businesses.

Seth Pearson, director of Darlington Cares, said: “It has been an incredible effort, all within 24 hours, and I’m really proud of the way Darlington has responded. We have seen a huge wave of goodwill that will make a real difference to hundreds of families.”

Darlington Borough Council leader, Councillor Heather Scott, said: “It’s wonderful to see the way the community has stepped up at such short notice to make this happen. The number of volunteers who have come forward is incredible, and it’s another demonstration of what a community-minded town Darlington is.

“We will be providing funds as a council so this support can continue at The Bread and Butter Thing’s community hubs throughout the school holidays. We will prioritise children on free school meals, but also look to support other families who need help.”

Councillor Stephen Harker, Labour leader on Darlington Borough Council, said: “It’s so heartening to see how many people have turned out at short notice. It’s another fantastic example of the community spirit we’ve seen during the pandemic.”

Tracy Freeman, chief executive of First Stop, said: “It’s just amazing. When you ask Darlington people for help, they always respond.”

Siobhan Brown, community development drive officer for The Bread and Butter Thing, added: “It just shows what can happen when a community comes together. We have seen a lot of demand at our hubs since coming to Darlington, and today is about providing additional support.”

Mum-of-four Nicola Blakeley, who was among those benefiting from the free food parcels, said: “This is going to be an enormous help.”

Nicola, who makes regular use of The Bread and Butter Thing’s hub at Corporation Road Primary School, added: “I have a son with special needs, who has to have high-calorie foods, and that takes up a lot of the family budget.

“The thing about The Bread and Butter Thing is that you are never made to feel that you are being judged – no one’s looking down their nose at you. Thanks to this extra support today, it means I can now spend money on a few other bits for the kids.”

Another mum, Michelle Adams, said: “It’s hard making ends meet but The Bread and Butter Thing is a great idea and today has been another huge help.”