VOLUNTEERS got to work filling hundreds of brown paper bags as they started packing almost 50,000 free lunches for disadvantaged families across Bolton.

The Bolton Lunches scheme, organised by Urban Outreach, began at the Central Baptist Church in Snowden Street yesterday.

The annual initiative takes place every summer and aims to provide enough meals to feed children who usually have free school lunches but could go hungry throughout the holidays.

About 1,520 lunches were packed yesterday and shipped out to centres across the town to be made available for families to pick up.

Samuel Bagley, project co-ordinator at Urban Outreach, said: "Over six weeks we will make about 45,000 to 50,000 lunches and today we are hoping to make about 1,520 which will go out to people across the town.

"It has been incredible. Here in the morning we have had about 60 people working here and we have all the volunteers across the other sites.

"It is a huge effort with lots of different people around the town doing their part.

"This is a huge benefit for a lot of people and we just hope it can help them all through the summer.

"We do not want the summer holidays to be a stressful time for the families who are not going to get the free school lunches for their children."

As well as helping to place food into the bags, workers also helped to make the sandwiches and load the crates of lunches on to waiting vans, provided by U Drive and Seddon Construction.

This is the fifth year for the Bolton Lunches scheme and Mr Bagley said he is always amazed by the response of the volunteers.

He said: "I think this is absolutely astonishing. Often we have people who have been coming to help us ever since it started but we have seen a lot of new faces.

"We have a great little community here."

Each brown paper bag will contain a sandwich (a choice of cheese, ham or tuna), cheese bakes, a cereal bar, fruit juice and a piece of fruit.

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There will be 47,000 of each item will be packed into the bags over the next six weeks.

Dave Bagley, CEO of Urban Outreach, said: "Our target is to make sure they do not suffer as a result of not being without the food over the summer.

"There is research to suggest that children who do not get that will return back to school potentially malnourished and not ready for the year ahead.

"It is not just about making sure children get their lunches, it is also about enabling them to arrive back at school, after the summer, healthy."

He echoed his son's praise for the people who turned up, with some there before 7am.

He said: "We have a little email that goes out and people have just arrived. They just care about it and turn up.

"It is astonishing. It is very early and some people go in to work, there will be young people coming in with their parents."

"It is a word that we keep using it but it is just the community doing what it does best.

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"Bolton probably does community better than any other town and city in the world.

"People are here taking care of children they will never meet. And they are not doing it for an OBE or anything.

"They are just happy to come in here and do what they can."

Mr Bagley thanked Bolton Council, U Drive and Seddon for helping Urban Outreach with the project.

Stuart Lever, owner of U Drive, was a recipient of free lunches when he was at school.

He said: "I did not realise just how big of an operation this was.

"As someone who was a recipient of free school meals, I see this very much as putting back into something that I took out from when I was younger."

For more information, go to urbanoutreach.co.uk