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The transformative power of food

KidsCan food helps the pupils of Te Kura Waenga [Years 5 to 7] at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa to absorb more from their lessons. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

In the second of a three-part series on the work being done to improve the well-being of Wairarapa pupils, education reporter TOM TAYLOR examines the effect of KidsCan’s food support in our schools, and why it is necessary.

KidsCan founder Julie Chapman says that every year, some pupils miss the first day of school.

These children might lack the correct uniform, stationery, shoes, or food.

“They’re starting behind the eight ball straight away,” Chapman said.

With parents spending up to 60 per cent of their incomes just to keep a roof over their heads, very little remained for food and other bills.

“What we see is families that are running out of food and are unable to feed their children – and these are not families that are wasting money, they are people that love and care about their children.

Unfortunately, because of their circumstances, they are in a deficit every week, and are unable to lift themselves out of that poverty trap.”

Social issues such as housing combined with the effects of covid-19 created a “recipe for disaster”, Chapman said.

This year, KidsCan continued to provide support for Featherston School even as it moved from Decile 3 to 4, as much of the cohort still fell into a lower socio-economic bracket.

Principal Gina Smith said that although Featherston was becoming more self-reliant, the well-being of their children came first, and they were grateful for KidsCan’s support.

“You just take what you need, you don’t take too much.”

There had been a massive transformation at the school since KidsCan’s involvement, Smith said.

“When we [first] walked in here, we saw a lot of kids with their heads down – they weren’t very proud of who they were and where they came from. When you walk in now, it has a whole different feel.”

Featherston School strove to break down any perceived stigma associated with accepting aid.

“We’re a whanau, and there’s no shame in asking for help if you need it. We’ve just tried to provide everything we need to make everyone equal, so that if you walk through the gates and you need something, it’s okay to ask.”

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Wairarapa principal Phillipa Rimene agreed that stigma had no place when it came to children’s education.

“No one’s stigmatised, because everyone’s getting the same.”

Rimene said KidsCan support meant the school could also help families in discrete ways, such as sending extra food home with pupils.

In the next two weeks, KidsCan would distribute about 156 tonnes of food provisions for Term 1 to schools across New Zealand. Five Wairarapa schools – Lakeview School, Mauriceville School, St Patrick’s School, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Wairarapa and Featherston School – would receive 765 kilograms.

“Food makes a huge difference,” Rimene said.

“And when it’s food that is reasonably healthy, that makes a big difference as well, as opposed to cheap bags of rubbish.”

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Wairarapa supplemented all kids’ lunches with KidsCan kai and provided hot food in the winter months.

Featherston School had a breakfast club every morning, using spreads and other items that KidsCan provided.

“That just means they get a really good start to the day,” Smith said, “and if you’ve got a good start to the day, usually things go pretty well in the classroom.”

  • Tomorrow, the Times-Age explores other avenues of support for schools, and future initiatives. To donate to KidsCan, visit backtoschool.org.nz

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