FIXING THE HEARTBREAK IN NZ’S SCHOOLS
Charity provides breakfast for the thousands of children who come to school hungry.
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.”