Chelsea and England football star Reece James is urging people to support a charity working to help end hunger.
The right back has been devoting spare time and money to The Felix Project, a London-based initiative which collects fresh, surplus food and delivers it for free to front-line charities and schools to reach needy people.
Reece has donated £10,000 and says achieving his fundraising target of £100,000 – which equates to 610,000 meals – would be the best gift imaginable for his 21st birthday on December 8.
He says: “No child should go to bed hungry. No one should be worrying where the next meal comes from. It breaks my heart. We all need to come together to create positive change.
“I know we can smash this. There would be no better way to celebrate my 21st by raising £100,000 to make sure children and their families have enough food. Please help out if you can it’s for a great cause.”
Research by The Felix Project found that 2.25 million extra meals will be needed this winter to fill the gap caused by COVID.
Since January it has delivered 14 million meals and it aims to provide 6 million more by the end of the year.
Reece – whose younger sister Lauren, 19, plays for Manchester United and recently won her first England call up – is following in the footsteps of philanthropic England team-mates Marcus Rashford, who lobbied the government to tackle holiday hunger for children, and Raheem Sterling who is setting up a foundation for deprived young people.
Marcus Roberts, relationship manager of The Felix Project, says: “Reece has been quietly donating his time for the last year and a half. To have someone like him, who at the age of 20 is so passionate about helping others, is incredibly powerful and inspiring. So many young people look up to him and want to be like him, and by devoting his time to helping the less well off he is the best role model.”
Here, Reece explains exactly why helping Britain’s underprivileged children means so much to him…
It looks like you’re very hands-on with the Felix Project – what have you been doing?
“I just try to help out where I can and help promote the good things they’re bringing to the community. I go down to their warehouse whenever I can, depending on my schedule at Chelsea, and do whatever needs to be done. From going out in the Felix van to take food to other different smaller charities, and to youth centres, and helping out in the warehouse sorting the food that comes in and putting it in the designated spaces.
“They treat me as a normal guy. And I’m there as any other person who’s trying to do their bit and help out other people.”
How do you feel after you’ve spent time helping people from the Felix Project?
“It’s a great feeling to help people and put a smile on other people’s faces, and I hope I inspire other people to have a positive effect on their communities as well.
“My profile has grown quite a lot in the past year, and I think this is a good way for me to reach out and use my voice for other people who are in need of help.
“When I’m in the van, sometimes people recognise me, but a lot of people walk past and look and think, ‘oh no, that can’t be him in that.”
Can you tell us about the people you’ve met within the Felix Project, or someone helped by the project, who has really inspired you?
I haven’t really come across too many families, I’ve mostly been working behind the scenes getting the food to them. But it’s not nice, hearing of young kids and families who don’t have enough food, it’s not they’re fault. During this period people have lost jobs and can’t afford rent and food. That’s not down to themselves, it’s down to the situation that we’re in and it’s very tough.
“When I wanted to do something I reached out to Marcus from the Felix Project, and he helped me to understand the issue, and how best I could help. We speak on a daily basis about how we can keep on improving and keep on getting more meals to people.”
In the past do you think footballers have had a bad reputation for being flash, when in fact a great many do fantastic charity work?
“I think that every footballer to get to where they are and the amount of money they’ve earned, it hasn’t come through luck, it’s taken years and years of hard work, so how they spend their money is up to them.
“Everyone at Chelsea knows what I do and they respect it as well. Some of the boys have offered to come down and help, but it’s difficult at the moment during the pandemic. I’m sure within time once the world gets back to normal I’ll be persuading others to come down and help too.”
Your sister Lauren was called up by England recently too. Your parents must have done something very right. Did they teach you to look out for others?
“I do think, growing up, my parents planted the seed in me of wanting to help others. But I grew up with kids in my area not being fortunate and not always having meals on the table, so I knew what effect it had on people and how it can affect you physically and mentally. I wanted to put a change to that.
“I remember one boy I met, he told me that sometimes he just didn’t get to eat dinner. But he loved football as well, so I remember spending the day in the park teaching him how to play football. Hearing him saying he went hungry affected me, and I felt I needed to help him in some way.”
When you look back at your own childhood, did your family ever struggle?
“I had enough, and I always had food on the table. But just because I wasn’t that child who didn’t have food on the table doesn’t mean that I don’t want to help.”
How can we all help the Felix Project?
“I’ve organised my own fundraising page at the moment, to raise as much money as possible to help the Felix Project provide enough meals over Christmas. It’s a traditional festive period and I don’t want to see anyone going hungry, so I tried to create something that gives everyone a platform to help and come together.
“I don’t think you need to be big or famous or have millions of followers to help, every little helps, and every person is someone else who can help spread the word and positive energy.
“I don’t have any other plans for my 21st birthday, I just want to give back and make other people happy.”