FIX­ING THE HEARTBREAK IN NZ’S SCHOOLS

Char­ity pro­vides break­fast for the thou­sands of chil­dren who come to school hun­gry.

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - COVER STORY -

Some chil­dren at Waitara Cen­tral School in Taranaki are so hun­gry when they ar­rive in the morn­ings their first sub­ject for the day is break­fast.

“They’re hun­gry, they’re cold,” says the school’s prin­ci­pal, Shar­ren Read. “As a re­sult, they’re feel­ing frac­tious; there can be fights in the play­ground be­fore the first bell has rung for the day and they’re far from ready to learn.

“That’s why at our lit­tle decile two school, the first sub­ject for the day for many is break­fast. It’s where we feel ob­li­gated to start, be­fore we even get to the class­room,” she says. “Be­ing a prin­ci­pal can be a heart­break­ing job.”

Ev­ery morn­ing the small pri­mary school — which has a roll of around 100 — feeds up to a third of its chil­dren a break­fast of baked beans, yo­ghurt, fruit pot­tles, toast and ce­real do­nated by char­i­ties like Kid­sCan.

Around 30,000 hun­gry chil­dren through­out New Zealand are sup­ported by Kid­sCan ev­ery week through its Food for Kids pro­gramme, and the char­ity is call­ing on New Zealan­ders to help by sign­ing up to do­nate $20 a month.

Read says the case of a seven-year-old girl who en­rolled at school puts a real face on what is hap­pen­ing.

“Louise (not her real name) lived with her mother, who had been di­ag­nosed with de­pres­sion, in what can only be de­scribed as ap­palling poverty,” she says. “Louise was dirty with un­kempt hair, and wore the same thread­bare clothes ev­ery day and we dis­cov­ered the whole fam­ily slept on t wo mat­tresses, which were on the floor.

“She ar­rived at school with­out a bag, shoes or any sta­tionery; she was un­com­mu­nica­tive, sullen and didn’t know how to play with oth­ers.”

But af­ter be­ing in­tro­duced to the school’s break­fast club, Read no­ticed a change in Louise.

“She loved it. The mo­ment she walked in she re­ceived a warm wel­come, a smile and a hug — she loved be­ing there so much she be­came like a vol­un­teer, wel­com­ing oth­ers in, show­ing them where to get their crock­ery and help­ing to clear up and do the dishes.

“She would leave each day with an­other hug, she felt like she be­longed and the dif­fer­ence was tan­gi­ble.”

Read says not only did Louise get fed a nour­ish­ing break­fast, but lunch was also made for her. It was qui­etly slipped into her cubby hole so no one knew she didn’t bring it to school her­self.

“She could get her lunch and sit with other chil­dren, her dig­nity in­tact,” she says. “The change in Louise was im­mense and we dis­cov­ered she was a bright stu­dent with a car­ing na­ture.”

Read also talks about the case of Anna (not her real name), a mum who last year en­rolled her fam­ily at the school.

“She (Anna) had es­caped a vi­o­lent part­ner and came to Taranaki with noth­ing,” Read says. “Anna’s look of re­lief when told we would look af­ter the chil­dren’s food needs was vis­i­ble; it was one less thing for her to worry about.

“I sat at break­fast club the next day and watched her chil­dren slowly re­lax as they de­voured a yo­ghurt smoothie. They were smil­ing and hap­pily walked to their new class­room.”

Read says sto­ries like this are not un­com­mon and are a re­minder of how much dif­fer­ence the lit­tle things can make.

“We work ev­ery day with fam­i­lies with huge needs and I can barely imag­ine what it feels like for par­ents to struggle to pro­vide for them. I am grate­ful to Kid­sCan and other char­i­ties who don’t just pro­vide food, shoes, rain­coats and health prod­ucts — they help give these kids the head start they need.

“Thanks to the do­na­tions made to our school we are able to of­fer a glim­mer of hope.”

Photo: Shar­ren Read, Waitara Cen­tral School Prin­ci­pal

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