A Whangārei charity wants to provide lunch to 6000 Northland children a week - or 1.2 million annually.

The Food for Life programme, which is run by Whangārei's Hare Krishna community, has been providing lunches one day a week to up to five schools in Whangārei since 2012.

Now co-ordinator Buddhi Wilcox wants to expand the programme further across Northland.

The charity is part of the Food for Life Global group. Wilcox said in India the programme provides more than two millions meals a day. One kitchen can produce up to 200,000 meals a day, with vans coming in to collect the food and deliver it to schools up to two hours away.

Advertisement

"That's how we want to model it," Wilcox said.

Buddhi Wilcox has plans to expand his Food for Life schools in lunches to 6000 children. Photo / John Stone
Buddhi Wilcox has plans to expand his Food for Life schools in lunches to 6000 children. Photo / John Stone

Wilcox's vision would see one kitchen based in Whangārei cook 6000 meals in bulk, before vans would deliver it to primarily low-decile schools within a one-hour radius. That would cover areas such as Moerewa, Kawakawa and Dargaville.

"[It's to] give these kids a healthy, hot, nutritious meal, ideally every day of the week.

"To do that scale we need government funding and people need to be employed."

To feed 6000 kids every day for a school year of 40 weeks, the charity would produce 1.2 million meals annually. Wilcox roughly estimates it would cost between $3.5 million and $4m and he plans to lobby the Government for funding for a three-year pilot programme.

"Give us a go and we'll show you what's possible."

He said there were children who are not learning at school, children with health problems and children with social problems.

"A lot of those problems can be solved if they get a nutritious meal everyday."

Wilcox is meeting Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis next month to present the programme.

"We need to convince the Government that it's worthwhile, that we're capable of delivering it. The benefits to the people will outweigh the costs."

He hopes to launch the expanded programme near the end of next year or at the beginning of 2020.

"The whole thing can be duplicated in other parts of the country."

Classmates, from left, Jahge Record, 11 years old, Trey Te Haara, 9 years old, Lucan Heteraka, 10 years old and Waru Kaka, also 10 years old, tuck in to their meal. Manaia View School's Food for Life
Classmates, from left, Jahge Record, 11 years old, Trey Te Haara, 9 years old, Lucan Heteraka, 10 years old and Waru Kaka, also 10 years old, tuck in to their meal. Manaia View School's Food for Life

Manaia View School is one of the two current schools who receive a hot, free vegetarian lunch once a week from Food For LIfe.

Every Wednesday, the year 7 and 8 students set out the tables, chairs and lunch which is delivered by a Food for Life volunteer. Then the rest of the school's 210 students file into the hall and tuck in.

Teacher Wendy Rudolph said the programme is in line with what the school does, particularly around whanaungatanga.

"It's an opportunity to sit together, to eat together and reinforce whanau values."

She said ultimately the students get a really nutritious lunchtime meal.

Rudolph said Food for Life's plan to expand further into Northland was a good one.

"It's bringing hot food to kids who might not otherwise have lunch. It's an opportunity to try other foods, it's an opportunity to try other cultures."

Manaia View School has been receiving lunch once a week for five years, and Rudolph said it had "broadened our palates considerably".

She said the students were now used to tofu, paneer and all sorts of vegetables.

Rudolph said while students not bringing lunch can be an issue, the benefits of the programme are much bigger than that. "It's part of the culture of our school now."

After lunch and dessert have been devoured the seniors do the dishes and pack away.

Journey Record, 12, is one of those seniors. She has a glowing review of the food.

"It's really nice, it's good. When it's a hot day he makes something nice to eat. When it's a cold day he makes us something hot."

The desserts are a crowd favourite too.

Journey said the children have tried all types of food.

"Any time any of us taste it we end up loving it."