It's hard to accept that Bay children live in poverty.
It's hard to think about youngsters being hungry, living in unhealthy homes, and going to school with inadequate clothing and barefeet.
But it happens. The experts, the people who work with these children and their families, see it every day.
I've seen it too, but from a distance. I've seen children on a cold winter's morning, looking no older than 5 or 6, walking to school with short sleeves, bare feet, alone, looking forlorn.
Our story this week on child poverty in the Bay has struck a nerve in this community.
Local principals say Western Bay children are being fed by Tauranga's foodbank, presenting at hospital with serious skin infections and living in sub-standard conditions.
Their comments came following a damning Unicef report in which New Zealand ranked 20 of 35 nations for child poverty. In New Zealand, 11.7 per cent of children live in poverty.
Tauranga Foodbank issues between 100 to 150 food parcels to struggling families each week. As at May 31, 453 adults and 834 children needed help from the foodbank. About 12,000 people a year use a mobile food van in Tauranga.
Principals and community groups are deeply concerned.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />
In Merivale, one of Tauranga's poorest suburbs, families are living in over-crowded houses and illness is rife as parents struggle to afford to take their children to the doctor.
The problem is not confined to Merivale. Scratch under the surface of other suburbs, and you'll find plenty of similar examples.
Kaimai School principal Dane Robertson, for example, says he cannot believe the conditions some people live in. At Te Akau Ki Papamoa Primary School, principal Bruce Jepsen reports that some children do not have breakfast or lunch, and wear inadequate clothing.
Our online editor, Martine Rolls, in a column this week, wrote there are a lot of hard-working people living in poverty and the problem is not just confined to people on benefits.
The issue attracted 37 comments on our website by yesterday morning. Some were extreme. Some people talked about it being a serious, heart-breaking issue; others ranted that poverty doesn't exist and bad parents who shouldn't be breeding are to blame.
Child poverty is a complex problem with many causes.
Bad parents are to blame and have a lot to answer for. There are parents who choose to spend what little money they have on booze, cigarettes, gambling and drugs. They put themselves first and don't give a toss about their inconvenient kids.
These parents are at the bottom of the heap and it is challenging to help their children when they won't help themselves. They have made bad decisions and are stuck in a destructive cycle.
It's hard to see how they will change unless they want to change.
But there are also parents and caregivers struggling through no fault of their own.
They are good people, doing their best. They simply do not earn enough money to provide three square meals, proper clothing and a warm, healthy environment.
I'm sure some have had bad luck. Some would have also made bad choices in the past. But who hasn't?
It will be hard for many well-off people to understand what these people are going through. I have given this a lot of thought this week. It must be awful knowing you cannot provide properly for your family.
This is a family and community issue. We cannot rely on the Government to make this better.
There are plenty of good social organisations in our community doing wonderful things to help struggling families.
Examples include the Salvation Army, Tauranga Budget Advice and Full Stop programme.
It is important extended families and friends help those close to them who need it.
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbours and others should get involved and make a difference. They should try to be good role models, offer help, offer to teach and be supportive.
It is shameful the Western Bay, and New Zealand, have children living in poverty.
Children are vulnerable and need the right environment to grow.
The Unicef report says the failure to protect children from poverty is one of the most costly mistakes a society could make.
I agree. Surely we can do better.