A community-minded cafe is combating children's hunger, one lunchbox at a time.
Empire Espresso has launched a pay-it-forward initiative where a $6 donation can buy lunch for a hungry child in Te Awamutu.
The lunchbox is filled with a sandwich, three pieces of fruit, a homemade biscuit and popcorn. The food comes inside a compostable lunchbox with no plastic packaging.
This week the cafe gave its first round of lunchboxes to Te Awamutu Primary School, Kihikihi School and Pekerau Primary School.
Empire Espresso owner Jenni Williams came up with the idea after her son's lunch was stolen at school.
"I realised there are hungry children in Te Awamutu and they need help."
Jenni says the initiative will make a practical difference to local children.
"It's a solely community-funded project. The $6 donation funds the ingredients and the cafe staff donate time making up the lunchbox."
Empire Espresso head chef Lylie Mallek is also a mother with children at a local school.
She was horrified to hear what some children have in their lunchboxes — items like a cold pie, a bag of chips and a can of coke.
But some parents don't have many options, she says.
"A bag of chips is cheaper than a bunch of bananas. There's also many parents who need to work full-time and don't have the time or energy to make a healthy lunch."
Lylie says the Te Awamutu schools were blown away by the donated lunchboxes.
The cafe hopes the initiative will grow and encourages people to make a donation.
"It only takes two like-minded people like Jenni and me to make something happen," Lylie says.
"If more people acted on things, then problems like this wouldn't be at the level they are."
Empire Espresso has received praise from New Zealand children's rights organisation Unicef for its lunchbox initiative.
Unicef communications director Lachlan Forsyth says the cafe is a good example of community response to an important issue.
He says well-fed children are more likely to focus in the classroom.
"To put it really simply, if you're hungry in class the last thing you're going to be able to do is to concentrate on the work in front of you. Nutrition is absolutely vital to child development. We applaud this cafe for taking such an amazing step."