Sonya is a social issues reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Free school lunches for Merivale pupils

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Children at Merivale School will be treated to a free healthy lunch three times a week thanks to a woman in the community with a giving spirit.

Gate Pa's Garrath Stoddart heard about Te Puke woman Tracey Wallace-Hutchins taking an extra packed lunch box to her child's school, Fairhaven Primary, for children who arrived at school without lunch, and decided it was a project she could take on board in Tauranga.

I don't think there's anything worse than being hungry
Garrath Stoddart

Merivale School came instantly to her mind as somewhere that could use the help.

"I don't think there's anything worse than being hungry. I've never starved in my life, but there's a young man who lives near me, I give him meals every so often. I've been doing it off and on for people over the years."

These school holidays, Mrs Stoddart used her own money to buy some supplies and cooked stew, which she supplied to the Merivale Community Centre for its clients. She did this out of her own pocket.

"I'm not a millionaire or anything of the sort, but every little bit does help."

Mrs Stoddart approached local businesses with her idea and two local supermarkets, Countdown Tauranga and Fraser Cove, jumped on board, each providing $50 for Mrs Stoddart to buy food.

Other businesses were also considering getting involved, she said.

"I'm happy with how everyone has responded."

Mrs Stoddart wanted to cook healthy, filling meals. One planned menu included buying whole chickens on sale, roasting them, adding the chicken to a pasta sauce and throwing in an assortment of steamed vegetables - onions, carrots, celery, broccoli and potato.

"It's healthy, it tastes good, it's quick. I pre-prepare the vegetables, cook them and put them into plastic bags, stick them in my spare fridge, then when I'm going to make a meal for the children, I bring them out and add the fresh green vegetables."

To cook all the food, Mrs Stoddart bought six large stockpots, which were paid for by a friend. She will use three at a time to cook the food, then drop them off at the school and keep the other three to prepare the next meal.

Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti was excited when she heard Mrs Stoddart's offer.

"That made my whole day. It will mean a lot to the kids. Just having that hot meal is just incredible, it means everything to them and it will help them so much with their learning."

Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti
Merivale School principal Jan Tinetti

Ms Tinetti said for families that were struggling with costs or trying to find a place to live, a hot meal was a huge help.

Looking at the breakfast programme at the school, Ms Tinetti believed the stock pots would feed between 75 and 100 pupils.

"It's a lot of kids. We have 150 kids so that's a large percentage of the school."

Mrs Stoddart would be starting the lunches on Monday, the first day back at school after the holidays.

"She will be doing the lunches three days a week for the whole term," Ms Tinetti said. "That's the toughest time for our families, it's a time when it's colder and tougher for our families because they are trying to get heating etcetera, their costs go up tenfold in that time."

Countdown Tauranga store manager Jason Hirst said Tauranga was a close-knit community and staff felt humbled to have the opportunity to help out with initiative such as this.

"It makes myself, and my team feel really proud that we are able to support our community in this way.

"Once the school holidays come to an end this week, we're excited to be able to help provide food that will feed any hungry kids at Merivale School, which is just around the corner."

Countdown spokesperson James Walker Countdown played an important role in most communities around New Zealand, helping through programmes and organisations such as Food Rescue, Good Neighbour and the Salvation Army.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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