More Bay of Plenty tamariki will be learning on a full tummy with thousands more free school lunches on the menu.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins visited Welcome Bay School yesterday to announce an extra 88,000 children in 322 schools nationwide would receive weekday lunches.
About 42,000 pupils already receive weekday lunches as part of the Government's Ka Ora, Ka Ako Healthy School Lunches programme. It was unclear how many Bay schools will be part of the school lunch programme expansion, which is part of the Government's Covid-19 response.
The programme launched last year to help tackle child poverty, improve youth wellbeing and learning, and boost local economies.
Brownie and chicken pasta salad were on the menu for Welcome Bay School pupils when the Bay of Plenty Times visited yesterday.
Some children said they didn't always enjoy the food because it was something new, while others said it was "better than food that Mum cooks".
Welcome Bay School principal Jamie De La Haye said it was "very exciting" for him and the 305 students to be able to host the minister and it was a "really nice" visit.
De La Haye said the programme only started at his school in late November and already there had been an improvement in attendance rates.
"Every child at our school benefits from this programme and when any child is sick we ensure the food is sent home to their family."
De La Haye said ultimately the programme was all about removing a huge barrier to learning for children, who cannot learn if they are hungry.
He said there was also a "knock-on effect" for the wider community.
"For instance, when we had 60 children away at a school camp, the food was given to the Tauranga Foodbank, so the wider community benefits too."
Hipkins said the start of the school year can be an expensive time for families with a lot of additional costs.
"Providing a daily nutritious lunch is one way we can help ease pressure on the household budget and ensure our tamariki don't miss out on learning because they're hungry.
"Growing the programme now further supports families to meet their living costs, and provides an economic boost throughout the whole community, employing local people and spending in local economies," Hipkins said.
"School lunches impact the whole supply chain, from local growers, to delivery drivers, to the local businesses and community organisations that are preparing lunches and supplying schools.
"Over 942 jobs have already been generated by the programme and it is estimated that around 2000 jobs will be created by the end of 2021," he said.
Evading the Auckland border
While in Tauranga, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins answered questions on whether harsher controls were needed at the Auckland border to ensure people didn't flee to their baches.
A total of 54,633 vehicles were stopped at checkpoints between 6am on Sunday and 3.30pm on Tuesday. Only 822 were turned away.
Hipkins stated people do need a reason to leave despite a Bay of Plenty Times reporter describing the encounter with police "casual".
"We tightly controlled the criteria to make sure that food can continue to be supplied around the country, that supply lines stay open.
"I am aware that a number of people left Auckland after the announcement but before the lockdown came into place."
When pressed on the issue, asking if proof of address should be necessary when leaving the Auckland borders, Hipkins said people managing the roadblocks were seeking verification of people's travel.