Editorial: Free meal bill worth the money

By Annemarie Quill

32 comments


Luke warm cabbage, lumpy mash in gravy, and pale pink blancmange was the dish of the day when I went to school.

We used to moan about the dinner lady who would patrol the canteen ensuring that every scrap was eaten or you would have to have seconds.

Though it might not have been to Jamie Oliver standards, we didn't know how lucky we were to have a free hot meal every day. The 80,000 children that go to school hungry each week in New Zealand would be happy to be served this.

School dinners are back on the menu. Last week Genevieve Helliwell reported that an 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.

The bill is being supported by 24 community groups.

In the Bay, it was welcomed by principal of Merivale School Jan Tinetti who said that poverty amongst Tauranga's children was the worst she has seen in several years.

Genevieve's story has been hotly debated online, with some posters against the initiative, saying that it removes personal responsibility from parents. Others equated not feeding children with child abuse.

These protests have an element of truth in some cases. Some families are struggling through genuine financial hardship.

There may be other parents that do spend irresponsibly, whether it is because they are poor at budgeting, or because they are just too selfish.

In the latter case it is easy to cast judgement that such families do not deserve to be rewarded with handouts.

But this socio-political reasoning doesn't fill the stomachs of hungry kids. In my view, the Food in Schools programme by no means solves all the complex issues of child poverty and its causes, but is a practical solution to an urgent problem.

It also makes sense to spend on this now to save money in the long term. Hunger is not only a huge barrier to children's learning, but leads to all sorts of health and social issues that cost taxpayers millions.

Of course it is not just children in low decile schools that may go hungry. In an ideal world, I would like to see all children at school provided with milk, fruit and sandwiches. But if the programme can provide lunches for just some Bay children who spend the day starving, then it is a great move.

 

- Bay of Plenty Times

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