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Free lunches in a class of their own

The Ministry of Education’s healthy school lunches programme kicked off at six Wairarapa schools on Monday, including at St Teresa’s School. PHOTOS/TOM TAYLOR

Story by Tom Taylor

The start of Term 2 spelled the end of soggy sandwiches squashed in school bags for many students across the region.

Ka Ora, Ka Ako, the Ministry of Education’s healthy school lunches programme, kicked off at six Wairarapa schools on Monday.

Featherston, South Featherston, St Teresa’s, Lakeview, and Mauriceville schools, and Makoura College started their lunch programmes on Monday.

Masterton Primary School would start its free lunches next week.

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Wairarapa [TKKMOW] started its programme near the end of Term 1.

The nationwide programme launched in Term 1 last year, with 42 schools across Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay receiving free lunches in a pilot.

By March 2021, more than eight million free lunches had been served to more than 130,000 students across New Zealand.

On Monday, Wairarapa students joined their ranks.

Makoura College students enjoying their free lunches.

Makoura College students were among the first to receive their lunches on Monday, gathering in the school hall before midday.

Teachers distributed the lunches to clusters of students organised in their houses, while Makoura’s student-led radio station, 88.1 Hit Student Radio, hummed in the background.

Principal Marion Harvey said the shared experience was an integral part of the lunch programme at Makoura.

“We wanted to promote a good eating culture.”

At Makoura, that culture included saying a karakia and singing a waiata before eating.

The programme would have lunch provided for every student at Makoura, every day, until at least 2023.

Harvey said the programme would cut through any inequalities children might experience outside of school.

“The majority of students will have food, but if my daughter was in a class and there was one student that couldn’t concentrate because they weren’t eating, then that is going to affect her education too. So, it’s got a benefit for everyone.”

Harvey said she had visited schools in Sweden where teachers had been appalled when they heard what Kiwi kids ate at school.

“They just thought we were mad.”

The Swedish teachers had been especially surprised by the lack of hot food in New Zealand school lunches.

On the menu at Makoura on Monday was a healthy lunch of apples, bread rolls, muffins, and cherry tomatoes.

Hot food would also appear on the menu several times a week.

Trust House had a contract to supply the lunches to Makoura, TKKMOW, and three schools in Featherston, including St Teresa’s.

St Teresa’s School acting principal Carrie Watson said another benefit of the programme was that it provided local people with jobs.

The meals for the three schools in Featherston were all cooked in Featherston School’s commercial kitchen. Watson said this was the result of the strong collaboration among the three principals.

“People in Featherston work together for the people of Featherston,” Watson said.

Jason Fabling was one of the people who gained a job.

Fabling delivered meals, picked up the used containers, washed dishes, and helped in the kitchen. These tasks provided him with six hours of work a day.

He worked to a tight schedule, ensuring meals were ready at Featherston School at 11.50am, then delivering meals to South Featherston at 12.40pm and finally St Teresa’s at 12.50pm.

“Everyone that I have talked to has said that it’s fantastic,” Fabling said. “Trust House pumps a lot of money into Wairarapa.”

St Teresa’s School pupils relishing their mac and cheese.

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty, who made an appearance at St Teresa’s, said many schools in Wairarapa would benefit from the programme.

He said if the programme continued to deliver good results, Wairarapa could become a case study to encourage other schools to get on board.

“You only need to come along today to see that kids are smiling, they’re chatting, they’re having a feed. Especially for those who might not otherwise have lunch, this could well set them up for a fulfilled lifetime.”

On Monday, St Teresa’s pupils were thrilled with their meals.

“Mac and cheese is my absolute favourite,” Year 6 student Temaire said, going back for seconds.

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