A NINE-year-old girl who sparked a major community effort over the weekend is among those who have been trying to make sure children do not go hungry this half-term.

Daisy Simpson, who is a pupil at Heathfield Primary School in Darlington, decided she wanted to do something to help on Thursday after watching the news.

With help from her mum, Cheryl Pattison, she set up a Facebook page and was inundated with support, raising more than £1,000, which has been used to make hundreds of bags and boxes of food.

Ms Pattison said: “It’s been madness but the generosity of people has been amazing. The response has been overwhelming. It’s been heartbreaking reading some of the messages from people who have reached out.”

“I was sat on my laptop crying my eyes out at some of the messages.”

The community effort took over Harrogate Hill Methodist church over the weekend and bags are being delivered to other venues, including Red Hall community centre and Grange Road Baptist church. Cornerstone Arts will also be giving away free packed lunches on Thursday from its venue in Northgate.

Daisy is now planning to do something similar at Christmas.

On Saturday, a 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.

It was initiated by Teesside University student Sarah Weston, who lives in Darlington and helped rise £900 for the effort.

She decided she had 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,” she said. “It kept me awake, worrying about it, and I just thought, this can’t continue.”

Members of Darlington Borough Council also helped, including leader councillor Heather Scott, who praised the effort.

She added: “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.”

Meanwhile on Sunday, about 20 teddies were left outside the office of Darlington MP Peter Gibson in protest of his vote not to extend the free school meals programme during holidays.

Joanne Scott, who organised it with Morvyn Sanderson, said: “We were trying to get across that he has made a decision on behalf of people in Darlington and we don’t all agree it was a good decision.

“At the current time it couldn’t be worse. There’s such a need, there are projects and food banks that run all the time anyway, without a pandemic.

“I’ve had to isolate, so has my brother and he wasn’t paid. Some people don’t have family to go to for help.”

Mr Gibson said: “I am pleased to see our community come together over the weekend and pack the food supplied by TBBT which I understand has been paid for through the £135,000 that Darlington Borough Council received as part of the Government’s £63,000,000 supplied to local authorities.

“Just as I have welcomed all manner of donations for charities at my office, the soft toys left at my office will be donated to a local charity.”