Mesut Ozil: Arsenal midfielder says healthy children's meals should be a given, not a privilege

Arsenal midfielder teamed up with German chef Stefan Pappert at the start of the pandemic to provide healthy meals to families living in poverty, homeless shelters and charities that support refugees

Mesut Ozil
Image: Mesut Ozil is leading the distribution of 1,400 meals to schools across north London every day this week

Mesut Ozil says healthy meals for children should be a given - not a privilege - as he leads the distribution of 1,400 meals to schools across north London every day this week, part of a wider scheme he launched in March. 

The Arsenal midfielder teamed up with renowned German chef Stefan Pappert at the start of the pandemic to provide healthy meals to families living in poverty, homeless shelters and charities that support refugees.

Ozil is among a number of footballers, including Manchester United's Marcus Rashford, leading the change on the issue of free meals for children during school holidays. Last week the government rejected a Labour bill to extend free school meals, prompting Ozil to scale up his project and provide 1,400 extra meals every day.

Mesut Ozil
Image: Chef Stefan Pappert, project manager Parsa Sadigh and Mesut Ozil with the team from Unitas

"This week, during the half-term, lots of kids are facing a tough situation with regards to food," he said in an exclusive interview. "No child should go hungry. That's the most important thing and wherever I can help I will."

Ozil's team, which includes Pappert and project manager Parsa Sadigh, have already distributed thousands of meals to families across Brent, Burnt Oak and Edgware - in some of north London's most deprived communities.

"There's a real emphasis on making sure the food is healthy, nutritious and also filling. So we're using the finest organic pasta which my friend Alberto Franceschi sent from Italy," Ozil said.

"Healthy meals for children should be a given, and not a privilege."

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Pappert, who has previously cooked for the Queen, says everyone should be treated like royalty. "Everyone is special, and for us it was important to look after the children with good food that is healthy too. So we have fresh vegetables and organic pasta."

Mesut Ozil
Image: Players from Barnet Sunday League help make lunchboxes earlier this week

Over the half-term, the team worked through the night with help from Barnet Sunday League footballers who packed the meals into individual lunchboxes. By 7am, a line of black cabs queued up outside the kitchen in Knightsbridge, ready to make deliveries to 12 schools.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says there is £63m available specifically to help deal with holiday hunger. According to mum-of-nine Zoe Collingbourne, that is not enough.

"The holidays are awful. Prices are going up, and with children being at home a lot of the time, it makes it worse because they eat more. They get bored, they eat more. So I think the government is wrong."

Zoe picks up meals provided by Ozil at Orion Primary School which has the biggest request for help: 400 of its students rely on FSM. Headteacher Chris Flathers says the project took a little encouragement because of bad weather.

"On Tuesday it was pouring with rain so we went out in the minibus and handed out the meals to families on the estate."

Mesut Ozil
Image: Lunchboxes intended for children made by Unitas

Meals supplied by Ozil's team have helped Unitas Youth Zone in Burnt Oak in Edgware throughout the pandemic.

"Burnt Oak and nearby Colindale have the two highest rates of child poverty in Barnet," explained Unitas chief executive Tony Lewis.

"Since lockdown, Unitas has supported over 100 families with [Mesut Ozil's] team donating 50 meals a week to Unitas, as well as 50 each to two other local charities. On top of that, Mesut's team has donated 200 meals a day to the Youth Zone for its October half-term holiday club provision."

The Germany playmaker has also previously provided meals to 100,000 people in refugee camps across Turkey and Syria and paid for children to have life-saving surgeries in South America.

He told Sky News his most recent humanitarian endeavour has been the result of a collective effort.

"I'm proud to be involved in this project and want to thank everyone helping out, especially Stefan Pappert, our excellent chef from Germany, Parsa Sadigh for his organisation and my good friend Alberto Franceschi."

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