KidsCan has revealed the offerings of hand-me-downs by readers have been heartwarming, but donations are needed more to support the children.

Hundreds of messages have flooded the Herald inbox today after an article about two brothers who were alternating school days so they could share the one pair of shoes they owned was published.

KidsCan founder and chief executive Julie Chapman also wanted to thank everyone who offered their support to the charity throughout the day.

"Thank you to all the Herald readers for caring so much about this story - it's lovely that so many people are offering help," she said.

Advertisement

"We're not set up to take individual donations of shoes because we bulk buy new, good quality, waterproof shoes for any child who needs them at the 741 schools we support.

"We really need donations so we can keep supporting those schools with shoes, plus raincoats, food and health items. We have another 35 schools waiting for help."

KidsCan founder Julie Chapman says the need for help from schools at the moment is relentless with no sign of letup in sight. Photo / File
KidsCan founder Julie Chapman says the need for help from schools at the moment is relentless with no sign of letup in sight. Photo / File

An increasing number of children in New Zealand are turning up to school hungry and shoeless as the cost of living for some families proves too hard to handle.

Chapman said the answer is simple, there is not enough money coming into those households and the cost of living "just means that isn't enough money to go around".

"When that happens children just aren't getting the education opportunities that they deserve," she said.

"We have to actually realise that as a country we need to invest in the education of the youngest because they are going to be our future workforce and our future leaders."

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

'They were brothers ... if one was there, the other wasn't'

A South Island principal tells her anonymous, and heartbreaking, story of running a school in 2019.

Advertisement

They were two gorgeous boys, brothers in my Year 5 and 6 class. But they were never there together. If one was at school, the other wasn't. One day I'd had enough, so I put my grumpy teacher's voice on and said to one, "What is going on? It's not good enough."

His reply broke my heart. "We've got one pair of shoes that we share, and today's my day to wear them, so I come to school."

Well, the grumpy voice disappeared and the tears appeared in my eyes. They weren't choosing to bunk school. They had worked it out so they could each have a wee bite of learning. The next day I took them shopping. After that, they were at school every day.

Proper shoes are a really big thing for our kids. A lot of them have those cheap canvas ones, so when they get wet, they stay wet. Others have shoes that are way too big for them, or the soles flap, or the toes have been cut out of them. I saw one wee girl yesterday and she had tights on because it was cold, but she had sandals with her tights, and wet toes.

We can't get to the learning until we address the wellbeing of these students. One day we were doing some writing, and one boy said "I can't think what to write." I said, "Just write what's in your head." I came back to find a page of "I'm hungry. I'm hungry. I'm hungry." And it turned out that there was no food in the house and that hunger was all-consuming for him. Had he not written it, I would never have known.

So on the way to school every day I stop by the local bakery and they give me yesterday's food: bread rolls, muffins, baking. We quietly shoulder tap the kids we know are hungry, so there's no stigma. We're on the waiting list for KidsCan help - which will mean food, raincoats and shoes. KidsCan supported my last school and I miss it hugely, just being able to feed a child easily when they're hungry.

I've been teaching for three decades, and there's more need out there than ever before. The thing that is new is the working poor. We can't say that these children are coming from impoverished homes because the parents are lazy or because they're drinking or they're smoking. We've got parents who are both working two jobs and there's still not enough money to pay the high rent and food and power and clothing. It's bizarre to think that in New Zealand we've now got this subculture.

Many parents struggle to ask for help. I've learnt to listen, and not judge. I had one little girl who was absent a lot. When I asked her mum why, it emerged that she had no raincoat, and only one uniform. When it rained, her mother couldn't get her uniform dry in time for school the next day. "She has other clothes, but I couldn't send her not in uniform," she told me. "The children would look at her and she would be different. I don't want that for her." We found her spare uniforms and she left with a hug and a big smile.

We lose part of our roll when it rains. It's easier for parents keep their kids home rather than send them to school knowing that they're going to get wet, and then people might realise that actually they don't have a jacket.

But we need our kids at school. Education is what will get them out of the poverty trap, and let them realise that there's more to life than what they've experienced in their own homes. And so I've learnt that takes a village to raise a child - more so nowadays than ever before.

There's some pretty amazing people out there. The bakery, the church who supports us, all the people who donate to KidsCan - everybody doing something adds up. On Mondays, one of our parents makes an extra lunch for a hungry child in her daughter's class. It's a really cool lunch, one little thing that she could do to pay it forward. For that wee kid, he's never away on a Monday.

My favourite parable is the starfish story. There's a trillion starfish washed up on the beach, and an old man is throwing them back into the ocean. Someone comes along and says, "You're never going to save them all." And he bends over, picks one up, throws it back and says, "I made a difference to that one." I so live by that. For that child on that day he's the starfish that we've made a difference to. What keeps you going is that belief.