A third of all children attending low decile schools in Whangarei are receiving food assistance every week, a new report shows.
The research by Whangarei Child Poverty Action Group - Empty Food Baskets: Food Poverty in Whangarei - looks at the huge amount of food being provided to hungry children every month and reports on the "scandalous" state of child poverty in the district.
The report identified how much food was being distributed to the poor and low income earners and was completed by all identifiable charitable food providers and 24 decile one to four schools in Whangarei.
It found at least 1793 children in Whangarei - 33 per cent of school population attending the decile one to four schools - received food assistance weekly, with some getting food more than once a week.
All 14 decile one and two schools and five of those rated three and four were providing food to their students, with 13 providing breakfasts, and 12 providing sandwiches or cooked lunch, for about 200 children who arrive at school hungry and/or without lunch each week.
As well, more than 400 food parcels were provided to the poor and needy each month through Whangarei charitable organisations and 1100 special need grants for food from Work and Income were provided each month.
The report was launched in Whangarei today.
Child Poverty Action Group co-convener Mike O'Brien said that in a country that had long been a major food producer it was scandalous that so many New Zealanders reported going without food in order to make ends meet.
"The effects of this lack of food - 'food insecurity' to use the technical phrase - are seen by teachers daily in the school classroom and is experienced by children in both their educational achievements and in their relationships with their peers," Mr O'Brien said.
"One of the most tangible results of the growth in child poverty over the last two decades in New Zealand has been the increase in foodbanks and in school meal programmes and arrangements within schools to provide food for children."
He said the main reason families needed supplementary food was simply because they did not have enough money.
"There are also issues around jobs, unemployment and low wages in Northland and there are critical issues around support for children living in benefit and low-income households," Mr O'Brien said.
"There are also significant issues around the cost of housing and accommodation and [the report] is quite damning on the situation in Northland."
He said the Government's planned welfare reforms would likely make the problem worse.
Northland District Health Board medical officer of health Clair Mills said it was outrageous that in "the land of milk and honey" people couldn't afford healthy food.
"Food insecurity and its consequences of poor nutrition, obesity, and nutrition-related health conditions, are affecting families on low incomes. One of the factors contributing to our obesity epidemic is simply that families cannot afford good healthy nourishing food," Dr Mills said.