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Northland schools slaughtering animals to feed hungry families

Mary Afemata

Northland schools spending money from budgets to help hungry families

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Northland schools are slaughtering animals to feed hungry families and paying for food vouchers for whānau out of school funding.

One school, which does not want to be identified, has spent $14,000 helping families, including buying animals for processing as mince, to give to whānau. After buying half a beast one year, the school realised it needed a whole beast the second year.

It is widely recognised that children who are hungry, do not learn well.

Another school is giving koha and food vouchers to whānau and said more children are coming to its breakfast club.

An experienced staff member at this school believed families are struggling now, more than ever.

“I’d have to say with the rising cost of living and everything, yes definitely.”

That meant the school was providing financial support from its budget for families.

“We do have whānau that we do support with koha. There’s not enough koha in the budget to support all the whānau.”

The school provides breakfast for 15 to 25 students daily.

‘We have more students coming to the breakfast club, and I have had to increase the bread, Weetabix and milk supply. "

Charitable trust KidsCan supports children through schools and says food inflation is at its highest in the past 36 years.

The school spokesperson said: “It’s not that KidsCan’s not enough, we’re just helping the whānau out as well”.

KidsCan supports 117 schools and 23 Early Childhood Education (ECE) centres in Northland.

There are four schools and 13 ECE centres in Northland on KidsCan’s waitlist.

The school spokesperson said KidsCan is “wonderful”.

“It comes back to the Government to put whatever policies need to be put in place so that families, whanau can actually be able to afford to feed their children.

“Their children should be able to have fresh fruits and vegetables or have butter and cheese or eggs.”

KidsCan founder Julie Chapman: ''We’re helping to feed and clothe more children than ever before, but we can’t keep up with demand, and that’s devastating. Photo / Supplied

Te Tai Tokerau Principals Association president Pat Newman said schools spending money helping families is happening all over Northland.

“It’s getting increasingly needed, year by year. Many schools for instance are also sending food parcels home or making available vouchers to help with groceries and things like that as well.”

Newman said it’s coming out of the schools’ funding, “or they’ve raised money”.

“You can’t teach a kid if they haven’t got food in their belly.”

The Government’s Food in Schools programme and KidsCan were invaluable, he said.

Sean Teddy, Ministry of Education hautū (leader) of operations and integration, said: “We provide schools and kura operational funding to run their school and to achieve the objectives they develop with their communities.

“School boards are responsible for the financial governance of their school, including how to best use their operational funding to meet the educational needs of their students.

Teddy said schools and kura providing support to struggling families can improve student attendance and engagement.

“However, a school board must act in a way that is financially responsible.”

Newman said: ”We’ve been more than responsible in ensuring that children are ready to learn, and you don’t learn unless you might be in a coffee shop in Wellington if your stomach is empty.

“We have to continue until things get better and I don’t think any of the political parties, for all their posturing, have the answers.”

KidsCan CEO Julie Chapman said families’ budgets are more stretched than ever.

“They are rationing food, hot water, power and petrol. We’re helping to feed and clothe more children than ever before, but we can’t keep up with demand, and that’s devastating.

“A child can’t learn if they’re cold or hungry – their brains are just in survival mode. So, this cost-of-living crisis has become a cost-of-learning crisis.

“From primary school children staying home due to petrol costs to secondary students working huge hours to support their families, we should all be hugely worried about this. It’s denying children the chance of a better future through education.”

KidsCan is running a Winter Appeal - to donate visit its website.

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