Providing free healthy hot lunches in low-decile schools is how a cafe aims to beat child hunger.
Hare Krishna Food For Life is launching its programme tomorrow at Manaia View School with a free lunch for all 230 students, plus teachers and guests.
Co-ordinator Buddhi Wilcox says the first step is providing a free, nutritious vegetarian meal for everyone at the school one day a week. But with more funding the scheme could easily expand to more low-decile schools.
"There are 1700 children a day turning up to school without breakfast or lunch just in Whangarei - the potential is huge."
Hare Krishna Food For Life already provides lunches for a donation at its Water St cafe three days a week.
Customers who can afford to pay $10 for a meal help subsidise those who pay less. Customers can also make a donation of time or fruit and vegetables.
Mr Wilcox says the community cafe has been working well since it opened late last year, with everyone working for free and all fresh produce donated.
But he admits he got sick of going to meetings about children going hungry.
"People can debate endlessly as to the reasons why - whether it's the responsibility of parents, or the Government or teachers - the end result is that children are hungry."
Hare Krishnas also have a spiritual quest to ensure no one in their neighbourhood goes hungry, he says.
A $1000 donation helped the team start the project but more funds will be needed to keep going at Manaia View until the end of term.
"We haven't secured all the funds, we're doing it on faith basically. We're hopeful and confident that the community will see what we're trying to do and support it," he says.
The lunches cost about $2 each to make, with the cost kept down by donated produce and volunteer time.
Mr Wilcox says Manaia View School in Raumanga was chosen because it is a nearby decile one school with a high need - half to three-quarters of students come to school with no breakfast or lunch.
The school already has support from the likes of Fonterra's milk in schools programme, food from KidsCan and sandwiches by St Vincent de Paul but it is not enough for the need, he says.
The hot meals will be nutritionally balanced but also designed for kids' tastes.
Trials at the school have gone well, although Mr Wilcox says the children are hungry, not fussy.
"The kids should know they can come back for seconds or thirds, until they are full."
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