Annemarie is the magazines editor and regular columnist for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Extreme poverty spurs college students into action

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Seeing a family of ten living in a tent and a child who lived in a house with 25 people has shocked a group of local teenagers into action.

Noticing first hand some of the extreme poverty that some children at Merivale Primary School were experiencing galvanised eight students from Aquinas College to deliver care packages, lunches and household items to the school.

"When we saw the tent where people were all living it shocked us all. We had been looking at homelessness in class...reading the recent newspaper articles, but even when you read the statistics to see it first hand really brought home how much of an issue it is, that people in our own community are living in Third World conditions," said Lauren Russo, 16.

Merivale principal Jan Tinetti said poverty and homelessness had been an ongoing struggle for some students but had got significantly worse in the last six months.

"Families are being hit hard, yes we have one where 25 live in one house. More families are doubling up, and landlords are increasing the rent. We have three families currently in motel rooms desperate to find accommodation."

Sam Wylie, 16, said he was shocked seeing that some children didn't even have a mattress.

"Just a squab, or some just slept on the ground."

Sam also learned that some students didn't have basic items at home.

"They have a shop at the school where the kids earn tokens to spend, I couldn't believe it to see lots getting things like toothpaste, not lollies."

Ms Tinetti confirmed that many children lacked not just food but access to soap and shampoo, which for many would be "luxury items."

This week the teenagers presented each child with a care package containing toiletries as well as a handwritten note to each Merivale student from an Aquinas College student offering to be a pen pal. The teenagers had also collected beds, mattresses, blankets, televisions, heaters and clothes from school families and sponsorship from Cooney Lees Morgan.

The group also deliver lunches to the school each Tuesday which they make themselves for the Merivale students. Ms Tinetti said that many children come to school without a lunch.

"And there is no shame in that, we don't want the children not to come to school as there is no food in the pantry."

The group has dubbed itself the AC Army, inspired by the ethos of the student army who helped after the Christchurch earthquakes, and hoped to continue to support the children at Merivale.

"We cannot give them a home, but we can do small things with great love," said Russo, who said they wanted to show the children that others in their community cared and believed that they could still achieve despite circumstances.

Ms Tinetti said it was "fantastic" to see young people in the community helping other young people.

"The fact it's coming from other children is wonderful, it's fantastic they have social conscience and awareness now."

She said she would like to see more schools partnering up.

"Merivale is not the only school where children are homeless, going hungry or families are struggling."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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