A CLACKMANNANSHIRE couple used their joint 40th birthday celebrations to reach out to the world's poorest children through school feeding charity Mary's Meals.

Caroline and Ben Steele – who were born within four hours of each other – organised a party for friends and family to mark their milestone birthdays and invited guests to give a donation to Mary's Meals instead of bringing gifts.

In 15 countries where children are affected by hunger, poverty or conflict, Mary's Meals provides nutritious daily meals in school.

The promise of food brings children to the classroom, where education can offer a pathway out of poverty.

Caroline said: "We always enjoy celebrating our birthdays together, but this year was extra special. Everyone was so kind and so happy to give to Mary's Meals on our behalf."

The couple met for the first time while studying together at university, having grown up in Menstrie and Northumberland, respectively.

Ten years ago, before having their two children, the couple visited Malawi together and it had a lasting impact on them both.

Caroline, who works as a GP, added: "It really brings it home when you're faced with the reality of children without food.

"Nutrition is such a huge part of good health and when you see how far money goes with Mary's Meals, you realise how much difference each gift is making."

With the help of thousands of volunteers worldwide, the Scottish charity is currently feeding more than 1.2 million children every school day in countries including Malawi, India, Syria, Kenya, Haiti, South Sudan and Ethiopia.

Caroline said: "It's pretty amazing that it only costs £13.90 to feed a child with Mary's Meals for a whole school year.

"I went to visit a friend and found that both of her children had taken £13.90 from their piggy banks to add to the birthday pot. It's incredible how readily people of all ages take the simple message of Mary's Meals to heart."

The Steeles' generous gesture has raised more than £1,500, which they have donated to Mary's Meals.

Donations to the charity's Double The Love campaign are being match-funded by three supporters, up to a total of £1.9million (until December 31).

As a result, their amazing gift will feed 219 children for a whole school year.

And Caroline says this is just the beginning. Along with a group of local mums, she hopes to raise enough to feed all 1141 children at a school in Malawi by the time she turns 41.

For more information, visit marysmeals.org.uk.