THE boss of a York catering company that prides itself on its meat dishes has gone vegan for a month - to help a nine-year-old girl with a rare condition that limits her to a plant-based diet.

Gerrard Dillon, owner of the Hog and Apple Food Company in York, has swapped his morning sausage sandwiches for a vegan omelette to raise money for St Aelred’s RC School, in Tang Hall, York, which has helped Clara Mullen, nine, with her condition since she was four.

Clara suffers from mitochondria, which prevents her from producing enough energy and results in a gradual deterioration in bodily functions.

Her father, Isaac Mullen, 45, said that Clara is now unable to digest meat and can only process food through a tube, so she and her family have moved to a plant diet.

Isaac said: “Clara was always a bit clumsy when she was younger but at the age of four a teacher came to us and said she was concerned.

“She was diagnosed with mitochondria and in the past five years there has been a gradual deterioration in her movements and bodily functions.

“She began to suffer with numerous symptoms including muscle contractions that were spontaneous and painful

“Over the last two years it has got considerably worse and Clara now has to use a wheelchair to function as she is gradually losing movement and is unable to talk anymore.”

The family has recently had to move from its old house in Milton Street to a more suitable property in Beach Avenue, Bishopthorpe.

Isaac added that he was grateful to the school for helping Clara through her primary years.

He said: “The school have been so caring towards Clara. There is a lift to help her move classrooms and she has a teaching assistant as well.

“All the children are incredibly kind and considerate. She has many friends which keeps her smiling and makes her happy.”

Gerrard said that his change in diet has been a huge surprise to customers and suppliers who are used to him eating meat with most meals, however, it is a fitting way to help raise money for the school.

He said: “The family have been so brave and have been through so much. No one has ever heard them moan or complain or ask anything of anyone. That’s the sort of people they are.

“I love my meat but I thought that that if Isaac and Sharon can do it to help cater for Clara then I should also be doing something to make a difference.

“The money raised will help go towards the school who have helped Clara over the past five years.”

Gerrard has made some significant changes to his diet for January.

He said: “Some mornings, I like to start with bacon, sausage and eggs, however, this morning I had vegan omelettes with a filling of red onion, tender stem and cherry tomatoes.”

He has also swapped pulled pork sliders with barbecue sauce for pulled jackfruit burritos.

Mr Cullen added: “The best dish so far has been the vegan ramen that I didn’t even realise was possible. It’s really not anywhere near as bad I thought. There’s an alternative for all the food I love to eat. It all just takes a bit more planning and thought.”

The fundraising campaign raised more than £1,500 in its first 10 days, however, Gerrard would like to reach £2,000 by the end of January.

Headteacher of St Aelred’s, Susan Ulyett, said: “It is wonderful to know that Clara is enjoying her time here and we are grateful to Mr Dillon and wish him well with his Veganuary challenge.”

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