Pic 2: BTG050421FL2 Caption: Serious conversation about food - Raiden did most of the talking.
Pic 3: BTG050421FL3 Caption: Spaghetti Bolognaise was very popular on Friday.
By Dave Murdoch
Every school day Woodville School provides morning tea and lunch for all of its 86 pupils and breakfast for those that desire it (about 15-20), all thanks to the free lunch programme provided by the government.
For the school this began in term one but the programme - Ka Ora,Ka Ako Healthy School Lunches - was launched as a pilot last year to 42,000 students in specific regions at some low decile schools to help tackle child poverty, improve youth wellbeing and learning and boost local economies.
This year Woodville and most other Tararua schools joined an additional 88,000 students and since February 2020 the programme has provided over three million lunches with the plan to have 215.000 (25 per cent) of students in Years 1-13 receiving them by the end of the year.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins says: "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 ease pressure on the household budget and ensure our tamariki don't miss out on learning because they're hungry."
Most schools contract with a regional provider, predominantly Libelle in the Tararua, but some schools like Dannevirke High and Woodville Primary schools provide their own using local groups.
Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty is passionate about the programme and he visited Woodville School on March 26 to see for himself how it is working and was highly impressed.
Principal Gerry McGirr explained that with both his wife Jo and he having a background in food and a staff member a qualified chef, accepting the offer of funding was a no-brainer. The school also has a kitchen in its hall which is the ideal site.
He said they and two parent employees spent some of the Christmas holidays creating a menu and with the government providing essential equipment to cope with the new demand (coolers, a fridge, cooker, utensils) the programme was up and running and the kids were very responsive.
Surveys of the children were carried out to rate the different dishes and their preferences were built into the menu taking into consideration the health benefits of each. Deputy Principal Clive Madge says the aim is to have zero waste and with barely half a bucket after three meals on Friday the school is well on its way to achieving it. The waste goes to a local pig farmer who will donate pork later.
MP McAnulty listened with interest and said he was very pleased with the roll-out of the programme in Woodville as "he was keen to see the programme kept as local as possible."
He also said it provided "security of food which the children can rely on," adding that "there were some opinions that parents should be providing the lunches, "But in the long run if they don't who misses out – the kids," has said answering his own rhetorical question.
Is it making a difference? A survey of students at Woodville returned a result which said 92 per cent of students felt the new lunches had "helped with their learning."
DP Madge said with all the children eating at tables together in the hall there had been a need to teach eating etiquette and even in some cases how to use a knife and fork. Senior students are rostered to clean up each day.
It's helping with local employment, two staff paid to supply the food daily with a menu comprising, among many options, chicken drumsticks, mince-based meals and pasta bakes (the favourite), heaps of fruit, with cereals and sandwiches for earlier in the day.
The government says 942 jobs have been created so far and around 2000 will have been contracted by the end of 2021.
"The programme has been a huge success and we're excited to roll it out further," says Minister Hipkins."