KidsCan provides food and shoes to help children in low-decile schools, writes Julie Helson, founder and chief executive of KidsCan Charitable Trust.
The impact of poverty on the health and education of children has been highlighted by recent research and the need for practical and cost-effective ways to give Kiwi kids the right start is being increasingly recognised.
While we can pontificate about the causes of poverty, and who is to blame, the fact is there are families forced to live on inadequate incomes in our own backyard. It is in the best interests of our community to help them.
Supported by generous sponsors, the KidsCan Charitable Trust provides food, shoes and raincoats for the pupils of low-decile schools in order to stop the cycle of poverty leading to more educational failure and deprivation.
In the six years since launching KidsCan I have seen little sign of parents deliberately neglecting their children's needs. Almost invariably they are proud people who are embarrassed when incomes will not stretch far enough, and go without themselves to provide for their kids.
Even if some parents do not always make wise choices, should we simply let their children suffer? Should we not do what we can to prevent the pattern of poverty and deprivation being endlessly repeated?
At KidsCan our mission is to meet the physical and nutritional needs of disadvantaged children, thereby assisting them to reach their full potential in life. Our tangible initiatives, such as providing food, shoes, socks and raincoats currently support the education of more than 41,000 children in 207 low-decile schools around the country, ensuring they go into their classrooms each day ready to learn.
But we now have a further 105 low-decile schools awaiting our support so we need at least another 3000 sponsors to each provide just $15 a month.
Perhaps discomfited by the degree of real poverty in our communities, critics of our programmes claim struggling parents should budget better and reduce expenses by growing and cooking their own vegetables.
But many have never been taught how, so they are not able to utilise these skills themselves or pass them on to their own kids.
Others sit on the sidelines and say providing shoes, raincoats and food won't solve the issue of poverty.
While we do not claim that KidsCan is the complete answer, by meeting their daily needs for nutrition and warmth, we ensure the children we can help are ready to learn and therefore have a better chance of reaching their full potential.
While many want to just leave it to the Government to feed all our hungry kids, in my view every person in New Zealand who can contribute to making this a better place for children in poverty has a responsibility to do something.
The Government is already doing its bit, funding food for 10,000 of the 20,000 children KidsCan feeds every week.
Kiwis give more than $100 million dollars to overseas child sponsorship programmes each year. We need to look at how we can make a difference in our own backyard. Poverty here is real and sponsoring a local child will benefit everyone's future with 100 per cent of the funds donated reaching a child in need.
While the uninformed presume giving food to children creates a dependency on handouts, sociological research undertaken by Massey University shows just the opposite is the case. No instances of parents taking unreasonable advantage of the KidsCan food programmes have been noted. A hand up when they most need it puts the children and the parents on a path to a better future.
Schools report they are now more able to monitor which children are consistently hungry and work with families to help them access community services such as budgeting advice. Indeed, some schools we have assisted in the past no longer require the food programmes. The help we provided has enabled them to address the effects of poverty head-on and reduce or eliminate the need for assistance rather than creating dependency.
We should be making the most of all opportunities to help our schools turn out contented, educated and contributing young people. Otherwise we will all suffer the inevitable social costs of the hostile and harmful behaviour provoked by poverty and deprivation.
We want all New Zealanders to become involved in the KidsCan programmes.
There are many ways you can support us to help reduce our waiting list of schools needing help and ensure no child in our country goes without the basics they need for a healthy happy life.
Our vision is of a New Zealand where our less fortunate children have the maximum opportunity to make a positive contribution to our society.