Since 2017 Ka Pai Kai Rotorua has been providing cheap, nutritious and delicious lunches to Rotorua school children thanks to support from the local tourism industry. Now the service needs extra help to plug the gap left by the struggling visitor sector. Journalist Kelly Makiha reports.
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The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the tourism industry has had a flow-on effect for a popular school lunch service which is struggling for funds to provide cheap and nutritious lunches to nine Rotorua schools.
Charitable Trust and Social Enterprise Ka Pai Kai Rotorua has from the start of this year been supported by the Government to provide lunches to children at three local schools - Aorangi Primary, Western Heights Primary and Te Kura Kaupapa o Hurungaterangi.
However, the service has been operating since 2017 thanks to the support of sponsors. This year it was also providing reduced cost nutritious lunches to nine other schools that are not part of the Government's lunches in schools programme.
They include Westbrook School, Te Wharekura o Ngāti Rongomai, Te Kura o Te Koutu, Te Rangihakahaka, St Michaels School, Rotorua Seventh-Day Adventist School, Rotokawa School, Kawaha Pt Primary School and Kaharoa School.
In the shortened term one this year, Ka Pai Kai Rotorua provided 16,917 lunches to the three funded schools and 2686 lunches to the nine other schools.
Trust chairwoman Jasmin Jackson said it was important for the trust to ensure all tamariki had access to nourishing meals, not just the funded schools.
"We were fortunate to have local businesses provide sponsorship, funding, or payroll gifting from staff, which helped to subsidise the costs across those nine schools," Jackson said.
"Tamaki Maori Village, Te Puia, Mitai Maori Village and Sudima Hotels have been long time sponsors of Ka Pai Kai and also have assisted with deliveries when required."
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However, since schools closed, the trust's nine employed staff and 30 volunteer kitchen hands and driver/deliverers have been without work.
Trustee Natalie Richards said they were gutted at the impact the virus had on the local tourism industry but understood it had to withdraw support.
"We totally support our sponsor organisations who have stood by us and ensured that we could continue to provide affordable lunches to those kids who missed out on the Government scheme, they had to take care of their staff first and foremost and we absolutely support that."
Richards said Ka Pai Kai would now need to look at its business operation again and adapt.
"The trustees are under no illusion that seeking new sponsorship will prove difficult with so many businesses across multiple industries impacted across the city."
She said the nine schools won't lose the service, but partnership support would ensure they could maintain the quality at the same price.
Western Heights Primary School principal Brent Griffin couldn't speak more highly of Ka Pai Kai's food and service.
He said all children at his school had been given free lunches every day this year and the change in their engagement and energy had been noticeable.
He said not only were the meals nutritious, but they were made from ingredients the children would likely see in their homes.
"The hidden vegetables are amazing, they don't even know they're eating them. It's tremendous and the quality never waivers, always tip top and presented beautifully in compostable packaging. They really have gone out of their way to do it right."
Westbrook School associate principal Rachel Weinberg said Ka Pai Kai had been a great addition to the school's lunch ordering options.
Although not part of the Government-funded scheme, their students can order their lunch any day of the school week choosing from a wide variety.
Weinberg said the meals were packed with vegetables and goodness, hot and cold options were available and the children loved them.
She said most meals were only $3 to $4 each.
"Many of our staff also take advantage of the lunches as it saves them precious time and have often been heard saying they 'couldn't make it themselves for the price they pay'," she said.
"Ka Pai Kai deliver the meals to our school in a timely fashion so that the children get their hot meals while they are still hot. We have found them professional and approachable and have no hesitation in recommending them to other schools and organisations."
She said it would be disappointing if the service couldn't continue in its current form.
If you are interested in discussing corporate sponsorship for Ka Pai Kai, email the trust at firstname.lastname@example.org.