Founded during the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020 by Pāpāmoa resident Makaia Carr, Kura Kai’s goal is to help feed struggling families.
Community volunteers used donated ingredients to cook extra meals at home, which are shared with those less fortunate. Three years later, the charity’s rangatahi initiative is now a fixture in 38 schools.
Katikati College has been part of the programme for two years.
“It’s ridiculous how many families are not able to provide one meal a day for their whānau,” said principal Louise Buckley.
“There’s a real need in our community to be able to provide warm, nourishing meals for both our students and people who aren’t even directly related to the school.”
The college has two large chest freezers on-site that are filled with nutritious meals cooked on the premises by its students.
“On a main cookoff, they can do up to 300 meals. It’s really sad how quickly we are able to distribute them out to the community because there is such a need,” said Buckley.
Kura Kai general manager Marie Paterson said schools were perfectly placed to help their communities: “Schools have great kitchen spaces, they have students and the power to cook meals. They help their community and get that sense of manaakitanga.”
Hospitality teacher Karyn Williams leads the student cookoffs and said the frozen meals help people in a variety of situations.
“It could be the elderly, people who have come home from an operation, people who have loved ones in hospital and need a bit of extra support. Pretty much anyone who reaches out – no questions asked – we just load up our freezer bags and drop it off.”
Ingredients are donated by local businesses and food rescue charities. Some ingredients are bought with monetary donations while others come from community gardens.
Volunteer coordinator Megan Branks got involved because she’s passionate about food and child hunger.
“I coordinate some of the food rescue stuff, I deliver meals to people who need them. Karyn and I work out how full the freezers are and find more freezers when we’ve got more food than we can freeze. I deal with the food bank and we supply some meals to them and they send food our way when they can’t use it,” she said.
Katikati local Marion Topping has cooked more than 700 meals for the programme.
“I get to make food in my own home, probably 20-30 meals each week.
“My husband contributes as well. He’s a fisherman and we’re able to provide smoked fish which is really quite a luxury for people who are on limited incomes.”
Donating her time has given her a “sense of purpose” now that she’s retired. “It’s made me feel really useful doing something practical for my community,” she said.
There are also valuable lessons to be learnt by the student volunteers.
“I really enjoy cooking - and doing it for someone else is even better,” said 17-year-old Hamish Tanner. “I think it’s really good for the school and also the community. Kids giving back to it, which I think is really good.”
Buckley said the Kura Kai programme teaches students to look out for others: “Sometimes in our busy world people don’t do that. It’s great to be able to provide for some of our students who we know are doing it tough.
“It’s done in such a way that there’s no shame, it’s mana-enhancing. It’s about people being able to reach out in a safe way and know there’s people out there who are going to look after them in our community.”
With so many people impacted by the cost of living crisis, Kura Kai is always on the lookout for volunteers, fresh ingredients and most importantly chest freezers to store the frozen meals.
“Our kaupapa of ‘whānau cooking for whānau’ can relate to most people,” said Paterson. “Most people have a kitchen and like cooking, so it’s easy for them to whip up a meal or two.”
Buckley said the charity has had a profound effect on the college: “For us as a school Kura Kai has become who we are – it’s just part of what we do.”