Manchester United star Marcus Rashford helped raise millions of dollars during the COVID-19 pandemic to help feed children in England. He will receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2021 ESPYS on July 10. 

Rashford has spoken about his reliance on free school meals and the “kind actions” of neighbors and coaches throughout his childhood. Rashford was recently named to Time’s Top 100 List for his advocacy work on homelessness and child hunger. 

“An athlete is the least we can be,” Rashford said. “Sport can be the biggest driver of positive change, with its ability to truly unite. If I have achieved anything over the last year, I would hope that it would be to demonstrate to my peers what is possible when we are driven by a passion and determination for better. Better not for ourselves, but for those whose voices are very rarely heard.”

“We have a platform to speak on behalf of millions. When we wake up in the morning, we decide what we want to do with that platform. The reward of helping just one will always outweigh the risk of any negativity or criticism thrown my way. I’m honored to be this year’s recipient of the Pat Tillman Award. A huge thank you to all involved.”

Rashford is currently on the England squad competing at the EURO 2020 and made headlines when he pushed the British government to take on child hunger at the beginning of the pandemic. 

The pandemic caused many families to see their income decrease as a result of reduced hours or being laid off. Families especially struggled when school was not in session to allow kids to eat for free.

The government initially refused to help, but Rashford wrote an open letter calling for support. The letter drew mass-media coverage and led to government action. 

Rashford also saw success as he rallied donors to continue supporting children and petitioned against the government after they rejected a motion to extend the free school meals provision. Rashford secured a grant worth 400 million pounds in this instance and affected the lives of 1.7 million children in the UK. 

The Marcus Rashford Book Club was launched in April 2021 and a partnership with Macmillan Children’s Books was established to donate 390,000 books to underserved children in the UK and Scotland. 

Marie Tillman, board chair and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation, commented on Rashford’s charitable action. “Marcus raised millions and brought together a coalition of restaurants and groceries to ensure that vulnerable children and families had enough to eat as the pandemic closed off resources to them in Great Britain,” she said. “But he didn’t stop there – he twice took on the U.K. government to extend food benefits to families and he won. He saw a wrong and used his platform to guide those around him to making it right. Marcus’ passion for ending child poverty, inspired by his own experiences with food insecurity, mirror Pat’s passion for leading by example and identifying where he could unite others to make an impact.”

The Pat Tillman Award for Service was established in 2014 to commemorate the former NFL player and US Army Ranger’s legacy. The award honors an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way similar to Tillman’s legacy. Tillman left the NFL to serve in the military in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. In 2004, he was killed while serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan. 

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