Julie Chapman founded KidsCan 14 years ago. She says "things are pretty grim for families" the charity works with - now more than ever. There has been "no let up" in need between Rotorua, Taupō, and Tokoroa. KidsCan's figures, out this week, show six additional schools in the area have applied for support since October last year. In Chapman's words: "We need to help." Schools such as Rotorua Primary School had already been making moves to address child poverty before applying to KidsCan. In principal Fred Whata's view, the problem is obvious.

Roughly 280 children are arriving at school each day without proper food or clothing in the Rotorua district.

They make up a portion of the hundreds of children in the 35 schools nationwide on the charity KidsCan's wait list.

Last October the charity conquered the list but the relief was short lived.

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This week KidsCan revealed three Rotorua schools, one in Reporoa, one in Tokoroa and another in Taupō were among the growing group waiting for help.

That's on top of 18 high schools and primary schools within Rotorua that already receive support from KidsCan, as well as another three rurally in Mamaku, Kāingaroa Forest and Lake Rotomā.

Nationally, the charity currently provides food, clothing and health items for 741 schools in need, as well as 25 early childhood centres.

KidsCan CEO Julie Chapman says the extra demand has led to the charity's largest ever national food distribution.

Rotorua Primary School is one of the local schools on the wait list.

Principal Fred Whata said parents donated items and started a breakfast and lunch club last term, before securing sponsorship to continue the programmes this term.

The school is also part of the Fruit in Schools programme but he said there was still unmet need.

"We applied [for KidsCan] because coming into winter we have a number of students who don't have warm clothing. It's also obvious to me that they don't have other basic necessities. For example, some are becoming young adolescents and need hygiene packs."

Rotorua Primary School principal Fred Whata. Photo / Stephen Parker
Rotorua Primary School principal Fred Whata. Photo / Stephen Parker

He said the wait list was "exorbitant".

"It is really disappointing that we have this problem across New Zealand, but we will still do all we can to give kids the best learning opportunities, without encroaching on their personal lives."

He said at first he was apprehensive when the school started the breakfast club off its own back.

"We were taking on responsibility from parents but it has meant that students who didn't have fuel to go to class and use their brains now can. If kids are happy, warm and well-fed we are much less likely to have behavioural issues."

He said the meal clubs had also included other children who brought their own food, and simply liked sitting, eating and talking with their friends.

"They're not there to be exclusive."

Whata said although child poverty in New Zealand had got worse during his time as a teacher, education could help.

"I believe in leaving the deficits at home and giving kids the skills and resources to have fulfilling careers."

In 2018 alone, KidsCan gave out 5.27 million items of food across New Zealand, a 20 per cent increase on 2017.

KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman. Photo / File
KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman. Photo / File

KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman said a big component of the child poverty problem was housing.

She told NZME this week: "A lot of the families in the schools that we support just don't have that good security of housing or they're having to live in overcrowded housing and it's just a terrible situation for everyone involved."

Chapman said it was not just lower socio-economic families finding it tough.

"The cost of living just means there isn't enough money to go around and cover those basics and things like food and clothing and doctor's visits just go out the window."

Fairhaven School is one of six in Te Puke receiving KidsCan support - and has done for more than two years.

Deputy principal Sandra Cross said it had relieved a lot of pressure on staff and parents.

"It's just a relief for all of us knowing that if the family doesn't have money to pay for food or warm clothes, the kids will still get them... All our kids in need have now got raincoats and footwear. We also have the basics like plasters and tissues when they aren't coming from anywhere else."

Fairhaven School student, Te Puke. Photo / File
Fairhaven School student, Te Puke. Photo / File

She said the school had tried to supply these things in the past through its own fundraising and budgeting, but the KidsCan support now allowed it to put more money into the likes of stationery instead.

"It just helps take away the barriers so that everybody has an equal opportunity to succeed."

KidsCan relies on public donations to help families. To sign up as a monthly donor visit KidsCan.