Community: Let's feed our kids

By Sophie Barclay

Kids at the Otara Big Breakfast - a Mana Party event in support of the 'Feed the Kids' Bill. Photo / Sophie Barclay
Kids at the Otara Big Breakfast - a Mana Party event in support of the 'Feed the Kids' Bill. Photo / Sophie Barclay

270,000 kids, one in four, live in poverty; 80,000 are hungry at school. The Community Campaign for Food in Schools, a coalition including NGOs, faith-based groups and social welfare groups, is calling on community members to support a food in schools programme.

Green Party Co-leader and education spokesperson Metiria Turei says the statistics are shameful. "It is not right that in this beautiful country we have children going to school too hungry to learn."

"Regardless of the cause of this hunger, it is there and it is real and MPs have an opportunity to do something about it... By agreeing to provide something as basic as food to children who need it Parliament would send a powerful message about the value that we as a country place on our children."

The Community Campaign group are hoping to drum up support for the Education (Breakfast and Lunch in Schools) Amendment Bill, which will come up for debate in early June. Also knows as the 'Feed the Kids' Bill, the act is sponsored by Mana Party's Hone Harawira.

The 'Feed the Kids Bill' would provide breakfast and lunch (that meets Ministry of Health nutrition guidelines) for children in decile 1 and 2 schools. The Bill would also ensure that a paid coordinator was secured to manage the programme in each school, that evaluation and monitoring was undertaken and that schools designed their food to meet local needs.

In December 2012 the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, a group comprising policy, public health and law experts as well as NGOs and trusts working with communities, recommended that a food programme, commencing with decile 1 to 4 primary and intermediate schools, be implemented as one of their six 'initial priorities for immediate attention'.

According to the report:
"Living in poverty can be a barrier to learning at school. Poor children often come to school hungry, which affects their ability to learn. A Ministry of Health survey found that 20.1 per cent of New Zealand households with school-age children did not have enough food for active and healthy living. This percentage significantly increased for Pasifika and Mäori families, large families, and those from the lowest socio-economic groups (Parnell et al., 2003 in Yates et al., 2010). Children in low-income households are also more likely to have higher cholesterol intake and eat fewer healthy foods than their peers in higher income households (Smith & Brown, 2010). Organisations like KidsCan, Fonterra and Sanitarium currently provide food in some New Zealand schools. However, we believe that central government has a responsibility to provide leadership and resources to assist schools through a national strategy for food in ECEs [early childhood education services] and schools in low-decile neighbourhoods."

The Community Campaign for Food in Schools say that some children feel lethargic and confused when they go to school hungry and that hungry kids can't learn and are more likely to be disruptive, interrupting others' learning. "Research shows hunger gets in the way of education," says Turei.

A lack of food is just one symptom of the wider issue, child poverty. Children that live in poverty are often excluded from 'normal' school experiences like early childhood education, school trips and swimming lessons. They are also more likely to live in cold, damp housing which can have wider health impacts as these children may come from families that are unable to meet the cost of doctors.

According to the Community Campaign for Food in Schools, Maori and Pacific children are disproportionately represented in poverty, with twice the rate of poverty as Pakeha children. Maori and Pacific kids are also more likely to experience severe and persistent poverty. Research from economists Infometrics shows that child poverty costs New Zealand more than $6 billion each year in lost productivity, health and remedial education.

Some of the organisations behind the Community Campaign for Food in Schools.

Community Campaign members say that food in schools is one example of a practical and immediate response to the needs of children and families living in poverty.

Deborah Morris-Travers, the manger of Every Child Counts which supports the campaign said that a food in schools programme would help to tackle a lot of societal problems.

"We all know it's not good enough for children to have their health and education undermined by hunger," states Morris-Travers. "Children themselves say they want food in schools. Food in schools is a practical, child-centred measure that can also support curriculum learning, build community, and educate mums and dads about nutrition.

"Government, businesses, schools and their communities working together to provide healthy food in schools would make it clear that our society cares for its children. It would demonstrate in a practical way that our children are central to our thinking about the future."

To find out more, and support the campaign, head to the facebook page.

Contact your local MP to encourage them to support the Bill.

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