Butter Me Up on Queens Road is normally a ‘greasy spoon cafe’ according to staff member of three years Rachael Dawson, 44. But, over half term staff have been in the kitchen juggling the usual orders alongside preparing free school meals and packing hampers.
Mum-of-three Rachael had a personal reason for wanting to help. She said: “I have been on my a***. I’ve got a little girl who’s four and two older kids and I know parents are going to be in a worse situation than I’m in.
"I’ve gone without food myself so the kids are fed. We’ve sat with quilts and hot water bottles because it was eat or heat.”
Rachael’s daughter Caitlan, 20, a university student who works part-time at Butter Me Up, added: “I’ve been for a shower at my friend’s house and been round for tea [to save money].”
The cafe has donated 22 food hampers full of essential items and non-perishables as well as household cleaning products.
They have also cooked 32 hot meals to be delivered to 12 families across the city on Wednesday. On Thursday, they will cook another 42 and a further 32 on Friday.
Rachael, from Meersbrook, said: "As a society we have got to stop this stigma about using a food bank or relying on someone to help.
“I keep seeing posts saying don’t have kids if you can’t afford them. I was financially stable with my own house. I ended up broke and I was working 40 hours a week struggling with child care.”
She added: "It’s usually those without kids who have no idea what a struggle it is.”
Rachael's boss and Butter Me Up owner of three years Lisa Wheedon, 53, from Chesterfield, said: “With Rachel working here we’ve got the facility to do it. I think it’s brilliant.”
Rachael said: “Everybody contacting us is saying ‘I’m so embarrassed, I’ve never done this before’. I’ve said please don’t be.
"We've got one lady and her partner, both of them work and they are not entitled to free school meals but she lost her mum at the start of lockdown. She wouldn’t be in this position if her mum was still around.”
She added: “The woman was crying on the phone. She said I had literally saved her life.”
Also needing help is a single dad who has just started a new job – having lost his old one due to coronavius – but will not be paid for four weeks. He shares custody of his daughter with his ex-partner, but she receives the benefits.
Ryan Hopkinson, 23, from Beighton, works at the Billy Sharp Football Academy full-time but has given his evenings up this week to deliver food for the cafe after raising almost £2000 to pay for it.
He said: “I just wanted to give something back, Marcus Rashford was a big influence. I know Covid has hit other people harder than it did me, in a way that’s another reason why I wanted to do this.
"It’s the simple fact kids may be hungry and I can do something about this.”
Mum-of-four Elizabeth Askhan from Birley was among those who received a food hamper and hot meals for her children, aged four, seven, nine and 11.
They waved to Ryan from the window as he dropped their tea off. He said: “It breaks my heart, it would be nice if everyone was OK.”
Elizabeth said: “It’s really helped us out. The kids are going to love it. My eldest child Olivia keeps getting sent home from school because of coronavirus, we have to keep feeding her.
“Sometimes you have got enough then you haven’t. Yesterday we were really struggling, I was crying.”
Another parent who collected her food from the cafe added: “It’s been a nightmare. My friend has six kids and she’s really struggling.”
Single mum-of-three Sharon Gordon, 46, from Heeley, also received help thanks to Butter Me Up and Ryan. She is currently self-isolating with her youngest children, Zion, 11, and Shenia, eight, after they all caught coronavirus.
Sharon, an IT team leader at the University of Sheffield, had £40 in her bank account when she was told to stay at home by NHS Test and Trace one week before payday.
"I normally just get what’s on offer or day-to-day bargains. I had no way to prepare for that,” she said.
"I tried to do an online shop but all the slots available were for after we come out of isolation and, including the delivery charge, I didn’t have enough money.”
She added: “For me the main thing was having to cook twice a day. I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I’m wiped out from the virus, it feels like someone has put a brick on my head.
"It was just a nightmare, I cried as I was just stuck. We got some food from Food Works [...] they told my friend most of the people that use Food Works or food banks are people that are working.”
Footballer Marcus Rashford’s petition to expand access to free school meals for vulnerable children topped one million signatures on Wednesday.
Sharon said: “The donation will make a massive difference. Because we’re stuck inside the kids are eating non-stop, they’re bored.
“Due to the breakdown of my marriage and various circumstances I had a lot of debt. Just managing to maintain a house, car and children, it’s difficult when you are on your own.”
She added: "No one plans to be on their own, it changes everything. It’s hard asking for help when you are the one that helps other people all the time. As long as my kids get fed I’m fine. We are getting by. You have no choice, do you?”