FORMER players of a grassroots football club banded together to run 33 miles in a relay that helped to raise more than £5,000 for hungry children across the borough.

The group, who used to represent Athersley Rec, launched an online fundraiser to help provide free meals.

On Saturday, more than 20 volunteers ran more than a mile each across Barnsley in under four hours.

In October, ex-player Thomas Rushforth, of Monk Bretton, was inspired to start the fundraiser for free meals after seeing that the government voted against providing vouchers during the half-term break.

The 39-year-old told the Chronicle: “I’d just watched a TV news interview with a bloke who delivered a passionate plea to the government for them to reverse their decision to provide kids with free meals over the October half-term.

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“It resonated with me, and I wondered how I could help. Usually, I set out to help and life gets in the way.

“This time, it took me just five minutes to send a WhatsApp message to 20 lads, some I’ve known for 30 years.

“I asked if they wanted to get involved in a village to village relay to try and help me raise my target of £1,000. They all were great and got behind it straight away.”

Despite the bad weather, all volunteers took part in passing the baton from one village to another, racking up an impressive time.

“The event was amazing. It went better than expected and everyone was so excited afterwards.

“It rained but no-one cared. We thought it would take us a while to complete it but we did it in three hours and 45 minutes.

“We covered 33 miles in total which was a great effort. It was fabulous the community pulled together like this.

“One lad ran with his young ten-year-old son, and they just kept going and ran ten miles. He’s not been out for years but did the distance which was an unbelieveable effort.

“One other ex-player had a decent stretch to run, but no longer possesses the same levels of fitness he once did, and was offered a lift half-way round instead of struggling, but he turned it down twice.”

The team helped raise more than £5,000 for free school meals for Barnsley children - five times their initial goal.

“For us, after we discussed it all, it felt as though we were taking to the field again in terms of being competitive and wanting to win. Everyone was so proud to be part of it.

“We’re overwhelmed with how much people have supported us. We set our initial target at £1,000 and have been blown away with the response.

“Even the ex-Barnsley FC giant, Mark Roberts, has thrown in £500. It is unbelievably generous and we are truly humbled.

“Thank you so much to everyone for supporting us. We’re already thinking of how we can make it even better next year.”

To donate to the Athersley Rec fundraiser, visit justgiving.com/crowdfunding/thomas-rushforth?utm—term=Znp943yME&fbclid=IwAR28Rl4FIK5vqZVqQxXZUMhzi9dJLBdeoDlTMNchs6yaZBa9hqluUbC—NvE