20 Jul 2020

Auckland school staff prepare for more hungry kids in Term 3

From Checkpoint, 5:54 pm on 20 July 2020

Staff at an Auckland school are preparing for what is expected to be the worst term yet for students turning up without lunch.

KidsCan says demand from its network of 787 partner schools has skyrocketed, as families struggle to deal with the economic impacts of Covid-19.

One of those schools is Flat Bush Primary, where teacher aide Angie Harris has seen a rise in the number of children she provides food to.

"When I first took this over I can remember the other lady had about nine. Then it grew to about 20 but now I'm getting like 50 or 60 children," she told Checkpoint.  

At lunch time, Angie provides students in need with a peanut butter sandwich, a fruit pot and scroggin.

She said some of the kids still hold back.

"A little boy, he complained of a sore stomach, he was just sitting there so I did ask him: 'Have you had breakfast, anything to eat?' He was too shy to tell me no."

As Term 3 begins, Flat Bush School principal Banapa Avatea said families make a real effort to send their kids to school with lunch on the first day back. But he is worried about the rest of the year.

"Winter time is always a more expensive season with increased power bills and all those costs attached. But with Covid-19 it's just added an extra layer of pressure on families. Most certainly, once September comes and the pay subsidy scheme is ended, we're going to experience potentially more challenges again," he said.

Harris says there is no doubt times are tough, and getting tougher.

"It's just really hard out there with finances. Very hard for a lot of families."

Avatea says some lunchtimes are busier than others. He has seen days where 60 kids have lined up for a lunch to fuel them through the day's learning.

"Housing takes a huge chunk of family income. The cost of petrol is higher, just general day-to-day costs have increased so much. When I think about the years I've been in schools, that's something that has just added pressure upon pressure onto families. They've done everything they can to absorb it but unfortunately Auckland city doesn't look like it's going to become a cheaper place to live any time soon."

Flat Bush School is just one school benefitting from what KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman said was the charity's largest ever term for food distribution.

At the organisation's Albany warehouse food parcels are stacked all the way up to the ceiling.

Volunteers are up early, putting together parcels that will for some will be a main meal of the day.

"Over the next two weeks it's approximately 1.6 million items of food that will go out of this warehouse all over New Zealand to our 787 partner schools," she said.

Chapman said she was saddened by the level of demand for KidsCan's services.

She wanted to see orders go down, instead they had skyrocketed.

The demand for food from schools KidsCan already supplies was up 40 percent from 152 tonnes last term to 211 tonnes this term.

Chapman said KidsCan had hoped to see a general winding down in school lunch requests over the next couple of years, but the pandemic had spoiled any possibility of that.