6 Apr 2020

KidsCan trying to reach families in need under lockdown

From Checkpoint, 5:53 pm on 6 April 2020

Children who would usually get guaranteed meals through their school are going hungry as families struggle to afford groceries during the lockdown.

The charity KidsCan is rushing to get thousands of food parcels to whānau who teachers say were already doing it tough before Covid-19 hit.

Many teachers fear those kids aren't getting enough to eat, and say their wellbeing should take priority over their daily classes in the current circumstances.

"We had just had a delivery of fruit so we literally lined them up and they held their shirts out and whacked them in their bags," Wairoa's Tiaho School Principal Zac Anderson told Checkpoint

"I did a bit of a carpark poll on the way out, and I had some whānau telling me they'd have seven or eight kids with them, and they'd go into lockdown with lots of kids in their homes." 

Anderson said the lockdown is creating huge pressure.

"A lot of our whānau are on benefits, a lot of our whānau are on casual work, a lot of our whānau are now unemployed, so not only is lockdown difficult for whatever reasons, in terms of sharing households it's financially difficult and the pressures of trying to feed kids and the pressures of especially if you've got lots of them will be huge.

Anderson said kids at Tiaho school are usually guaranteed a boost to their daily meals, 

"What we're concerned about is the unknown, we don't actually know what's happening now in homes, whether they are getting a decent breakfast, so it is a worry."

“Food will be in short supply and I’m assuming that schools will have to ration it as well," Tauranga's Greerton Village School Principal Kimberley Henderson-Ginns said. 

“There’s children that come from families, or extended families... If there’s not enough food to go around in a normal situation, I can guarantee that families will be struggling now.

"Many families at our school, and schools across the country, really rely on the school being able to provide breakfast for their children, and supply healthy lunches.

“We do Fruit in Schools, and KidsCan and Fonterra Milk in Schools, so our children are lucky because we know that they’re getting good food everyday.

“What worries me, and what worries all of our staff, is that our kids are going to be hungry.”

She said their families tried really hard but were under immense financial pressure on a good day.

“They say the supermarkets are open and things like that, but when you don’t have a lot of income coming in to households, you can’t buy what you can’t buy," Gisborne's Te Wharau School Deputy Principal Sharelle Donaldson told Checkpoint

“KidsCan normally just send us a big pallet of kai, but now they’ve asked us who are your most vulnerable families and how you can help them... and then having it dropped on their doorstep is a huge playmaker.”

KidsCan usually feeds kids at nearly 800 schools and 55 early childhood centres. Founder and chief executive Julie Chapman said with those now closed, they have launched an urgent appeal to help those doing it tough.

"We know that many of the children that we support are now living in situations where they and their families are facing going hungry," Chapman said. 

"So what we have done is worked out a way that we can actually get over 3,000 packages of food to those children and their families so they do have something to eat during the lockdown period." 

Currently KidsCan is moving about 750 food packages a day to households in need. Each package includes four boxes weighing 40kg in total. They are designed to feed a family of up to five for about two weeks. 

"The boxes are full of a range of items - we have things like pasta sauce and pasta, peanut butter, bread, rice, even - to brighten up Easter - some Easter eggs," Chapman said. 

With many food banks in urban areas experiencing massive demand, the KidsCan parcels are heading to isolated areas like Tiaho School in Wairoa.

The government's free food in schools programme, which rolled out to 30 schools this year, has been put on hold during the lockdown.

The Education Ministry says support is still available for families, with the Civil Defence agency in charge of the regional multi-agency approach.