Backing for Food in Schools

By Genevieve Helliwell

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Bay parents and principals are encouraging debate about an in-school programme to feed hungry children but say the initiative will not eliminate child poverty.

A primary school principal in one of Tauranga's poorest suburbs said child poverty was rife in Tauranga and too many children were starting their school day on an empty stomach.

"We've still got numbers of children that don't come to school with lunches. We have to supply quite a few breakfasts in school and coming into winter I am concerned because a number of kids don't have appropriate clothing such as jerseys or shoes," said Jan Tinetti, principal of Merivale School.

Child poverty was the worst she had seen in her seven years at the school.

She praised this week's launch of the Community Campaign for Food in Schools and encouraged debate around introducing a nationwide programme for food in schools.

"We have a breakfast programme which has been running for the past four or five years where we feed around 50 per cent of our school roll (of 150) each week.

I'm not saying all these children haven't eaten ... , but it's providing these kids with a healthy start to the day."

Parent Angela Crook said the Food in Schools initiative was "a fantastic idea" as it was not childrens' fault they were sent to school hungry.

In Tauranga about 250 children are fed each week by food parcels from Tauranga Community Foodbank. A spokesperson said 1223 children were assisted by food parcels in January and the charity had consistently fed just under 1000 children each month since then.

The Community Campaign for Food In Schools was supported by 24 community groups and aimed to increase awareness of the issue ahead of Mana Party's Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill, set to be debated in Parliament next month. The manager of Every Child Counts, one of the groups involved, acknowledged there were some Food In School programs in place, including fruit in schools and Fonterra milk in schools, but said more needed to be done.

"Statistics show there are about 27,000 children in poverty and about 80,000 go to school hungry during the week. This is an appalling number and something needs to be done," Deborah Morris-Travers said.

The Amendment Bill, led by Mana party leader Hone Harawira, seeks to introduce fully state-funded breakfast and lunch programmes into all decile one and two schools in New Zealand.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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