Ben Dickinson (10) from Larne has begun the walk from his hometown to Manchester, in his bid to raise money for a food poverty charity.
He has already helped fund 39,000 meals for FareShare, of which Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford is an ambassador.
The Ballykeel Primary School pupil’s Miles for Meals campaign will see him walk from Larne FC’s Inver Park to Old Trafford Football Stadium, in aid of the organisation which collects surplus food from multiple industries and redistributes it to charities and food banks in Northern Ireland and across the rest of the UK.
Speaking ahead of his first steps on Thursday morning, Ben said: “Since launching Ben’s Mile for Meals, the support I’ve received from friends, family, Greenisland FC teammates, local businesses, and famous faces, has been brilliant.
“I’m already well on course to reach my target of 50,000 meals but hope my walk to Old Trafford will get me over that line.
“I just can’t wait to get started now and enjoy the next ten days!”
Joining him on the first leg of his journey from Inver Park are senior squad members from Larne Football Club, Jane Gregg, daughter of Northern Ireland legend Harry Gregg, representatives from FareShare NI, and friends and family, with further supporters joining the kind-hearted youngster throughout the rest of the 10-day trek.
The mammoth journey will culminate with a hero’s welcome for Ben at Old Trafford on Saturday March 12, as the Red Devils take on Tottenham Hotspur.
Ben is hoping he will be able to personally present a cheque to his hero Rashford.
This isn't the first time Ben has fundraised for a special cause.
In March 2021, the Co Antrim schoolboy raised £7,200 for Northern Ireland Hospice by running a mile every day for 26 days and was surprised via Zoom by Marcus Rashford, who congratulated him on his fundraising efforts
He undertook his latest fundraising campaign with the help of Manchester United legend, Bryan Robson.
The former footballer used his current position as global ambassador for the famous club to champion the campaign at a recent event in the city, which resulted in a deluge of donations.
Within a month of launching his appeal, Ben reached a 25,000-meal milestone, and is well on schedule to reach his target of of 50,000 meals by the end of next week.
As FareShare can provide four meals for every £1 donated, he needs to raise £12,500.
Meabh Austin, Development Manager at FareShare Northern Ireland, said that what the young man has achieved in “such a short time is phenomenal”.
“The success of Ben’s Miles for Meals is testament to Ben’s hard work and selfless determination, and it will go a long way to supporting many vulnerable children and families within our community,” she added.
James Persad from FareShare UK, said: “Ben’s enthusiasm and determination are truly inspirational. We couldn’t be more grateful for his incredible efforts. The money he’s raised will get food onto the plates of families and children across the UK.
“Thank you Ben and best of luck on the walk!”
Delighted to help set @benjiballer5 on his way, and walk the first mile with him on his charity walk from Inver Park @larnefc in Northern Ireland to Old Trafford, home of @ManUtd to raise funds for @FareShareUK & @FareShareNI. Please donate @ https://t.co/Ge6H5FG17J pic.twitter.com/sYRjU5txwX— Gareth Clements (@ClementsGareth) March 3, 2022
Ben is also is now being powered on by the support of his favourite Premier League club, having been featured on MUFC TV and received a message of support from United and Northern Ireland legend Norman Whiteside.
“That’s a hell of a thing to do mate,” Norman said in a video sent to Ben. “I believe you’re a big Manchester United fan, that’s fantastic, and you’ve raised loads of meals for charity so keep up the good work mate, and come on United!”
Looking ahead to Ben’s arrival in Manchester, John Shiels MBE, Chief Executive of Manchester United Foundation, said: "What Ben is doing for FareShare is truly inspirational. We are passionate about celebrating young people and providing them with the opportunities to create social action in their communities. In a post-pandemic world, it has never been so important.
“We wish Ben all the best on his journey and look forward to welcoming him over the finish line at Old Trafford.”
Larne FC chairman, Gareth Clements also took to Twitter on Thursday to praise the generous 10-year-old, and even walked the first mile of his journey with him.
For more information on how to support Ben’s Miles for Meals, visit www.bensmilesformeals.com or to donate £10 towards the FareShare charity, text BEN to 70490.