Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Kids charity struggles with demand for basics

Items as basic as soap and toothbrushes are in growing need among the country's most impoverished children this winter, says a national charity struggling to meet demand.

The number of schools asking for support from KidsCan Charitable Trust has doubled in a month and 3773 kids are now on the waiting list.

"This is the biggest waiting list we've had for some time," founder and chief executive Julie Chapman said.

"It's a reflection of how tough things are at the moment and schools deciding to take some action and provide that little bit extra for their children."

The Government-subsidised trust, which provides food, clothing, footwear and basic hygiene items to about 21,000 children each week, entered winter with a list of 14 schools asking to get on the books.

Since the start of June, that figure had jumped to 32 schools.

"The thing about winter is that a lot of kids live in homes that their parents can't necessarily afford to heat," she said.

"Kids need that extra clothing, and those extra socks and footwear, and access to what might be the only hot meal they get for the day."

According to the Office of the Children's Commissioner, many low-income families were struggling with the cost of housing. Many families spend 60 per cent of their income on rent, not leaving enough for bills, food transport or clothing.

Ms Chapman said it was startling to see demand for essentials as simple as soap and toothpaste.

"It's definitely worrying. These are all things that most of us take for granted, but when the budget is stretched and there's maybe $40 to $60 to spend on food each week, these things fall by the wayside.

"So those personal hygiene items, those things that people use on a daily basis, the need for them is becoming more prevalent as time goes on."

Two years ago, the average number of children needing food support in KidsCan partner schools was around 15 per cent, but that has risen to more than 20 per cent.

The most recent Annual Child Poverty Monitor, run by the Children's Commissioner, the JR McKenzie Trust and Otago University, showed that 148,000 children, or 14 per cent of Kiwi kids, were going without the things they needed, while 305,000, or 29 per cent, were living in poverty.

Around 9 per cent were at the hardest end of poverty.

"We see this inequality on a daily basis with the children we support," Ms Chapman said. Ms Chapman was heartened to see that 250 new donors had signed up since KidsCan kicked off its latest appeal, which asked people to donate $15 per month.

"That means when kids go back to school after the holidays, there'll be more children who can come into the programme, which is great.

"But really, we'd like to take a lot more kids and reduce that waiting list significantly, if not take all of them."

Kids going without

305,000 Kiwi kids live in poverty - or about 29 per cent of all NZ children.

148,000 children are going without simple things they need.1Nearly one in 10 kids live in severe poverty.

3773 kids are waiting to join the more than 21,000 that charity KidsCan supports each week today.

20 per cent The average number of kids needing food support in KidsCan partner schools was around 15 per cent two years ago, but the rate had since risen to more than 20 per cent.

Many pitch in to help hungry pupils

The extra hardships being faced by hard-up families this winter haven't gone unnoticed by one Bay of Plenty school, where pupils are helping out hungry classmates.

Decile-three Fairhaven School in Te Puke ensures its kids don't go without food, providing KickStart-supported breakfast clubs and extra lunches brought by parents and a Tauranga-based church group.

Fairhaven is also one of the nearly 550 schools around the country that receives food, clothing and items from charity KidsCan.

But staff have noticed the demand has grown - the school's health nurse is collecting more lunches than last year and parents are bringing in as many as 20 every day.

All were getting eaten, prompting the school to send icecream containers home with pupils to bring back donated food.

Some parents had offered extra fruit and sandwiches after their own children told them about classmates who were noticeably hungry.

"We certainly have noticed there are more families finding it harder to make ends meet," principal Paul Hunt said.

An influx of people into Te Puke had made rentals harder to find and forced some to sleep in cars and garages.

• People can support KidsCan's efforts by signing up for regular donations at www.kidscan.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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