17 Nov 2021

Hungry families welcome schools' return as Christmas looms

11:21 am on 17 November 2021

After three months stuck at home, thousands of Auckland school kids will be back in their classrooms today.

Lunch preparation at Flat Bush School.

Lunch preparation. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

Over lockdown, many schools have been doing what they can to help struggling whānau put food on the table.

The return to school - and the resumption of school breakfast and lunch programmes - will be a relief for those parents and caregivers.

Henderson Intermediate deputy principal Julie-Ann Thumath said their pupils could have breakfast, morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea at school.

"There's always something to eat at school and then they can go home and the families only have to worry about dinner," she said.

When the country went back into alert level 4 in August, that all stopped.

"All of a sudden they're thrown into being at home all day every day and the families having to find money to be able to provide food constantly," Thumath said.

"When you're sitting at home, you're constantly hungry, we all know that."

Some parents and caregivers lost their jobs or had their hours cut back, Thumath said.

KidsCan delivered food parcels to families who needed them and teachers also got to work, finding whatever food they could at school.

"The pantry essentials from our cooking room, the flour, the rice, soy sauce," Thumath said.

"Whatever was in the the cupboards in the staff room, food from the canteen - anything that was here we delivered out."

It was not surprising families were turning to schools for help, Thumath said.

"It may seem over and above our jobs, but it's actually not anymore," she said. "We are where people don't feel so whakamā to come and ask ... if they're struggling."

With Christmas and the summer holidays just around the corner, teachers fear the worst is yet to come.

Panama Road School principal Jane Dold said Christmas was always a hard time for some of their families.

"It is a time where we do get extra support from different agencies and different organisations."

Thumath was worried about Christmas too.

"People still want to have Christmas, they still want to have their Christmas lunches and to be able to give their children something and celebrate.

"But accessing those those little extras across Christmas and across the holidays, it's just going to be beyond the means of some people."

KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman expected the need for food to remain high well into next year.

"There are a lot of people who have just been seriously impacted by this and for some families, they were just getting back on their feet after our lockdown in 2020.

"They've just been put right back into a position where they literally struggle to survive on a daily basis."

The rising cost of living was crippling many families, Chapman said.

"A lot of people's money is taken up with those basic sort of things, like keeping a roof over your head, paying the power bill.

"There's very little left for food and families who are on lower incomes are really bearing the brunt of this lockdown."

Some Auckland schools were expecting about a third of their pupils will be back in class today.

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