Hungry students get helping hand

CHLOE WINTER
Last updated 09:02 30/07/2014
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DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ
HELPING OUT: Marlborough Girls’ College social worker Leigh Harmon helps John’s Kitchen volunteer Raewyn Buchanan make lunches for some of the students yesterday.
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An increasing number of Marlborough students are going to school hungry and without lunch.

To combat what they say is a worrying trend, Marlborough Girls' College teachers and the team at John's Kitchen in Blenheim are now working together to ensure students get a nutritious lunch.

Marlborough Girls' College social worker Leigh Harmon, who came up with the idea, said she noticed the need for lunches after the school started a soup kitchen and recognised a handful of students who kept returning.

"The response was overwhelming," she said. "We have a problem, like all schools, where the kids are coming to school without lunches."

So two days each week, they provide lunches - a sandwich, a piece of fruit and a muffin or a cake - to about 10 students, Harmon said.

"But be honest with you, that is just the tip of the iceberg."

Harmon approached John's Kitchen after they began promoting lunch in their school newsletters, and they were more than happy to help out, she said.

The school was grateful to the team at John's Kitchen, Harmon said.

Harmon believed there were more girls at the school who were going hungry, but were too embarrassed to say so

But this was only one part of their project, she said.

"We are working with the students and the families . . . Most often the money in the household doesn't last until the end of the week. They reach a certain point in the week and the groceries run out," Harmon said.

"Some people think the money is spent on other things but that's not the case, it's just there is not enough finances there to meet the growing cost of living."

The teachers were also adding extra "bits and pieces" to their grocery bills and bringing them to school for the students, she said.

John's Kitchen convener Yvonne Dasler was unable to be reached for comment yesterday.

Marlborough Boys' College deputy principal Michael Heath said they already provided breakfast for some students and were now looking at providing lunches, too.

"Our focus is on breakfast to make sure they have something at the start of their day, [but] we have identified the boys who are hungry and it is a major problem," said Heath.

"They cannot meet their full potential in the classroom if they are hungry."

It was difficult to get students to come to breakfast, let alone put their hand up for lunch, Heath said. Some boys were too ashamed. "It's a bit of a challenge. We've got this social stigma when it comes to asking for help.

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"So it's still a work in progress, [but we want] people who need to be made aware of it and be confident enough to come along."

Teachers had noticed the boys were more "switched on and focused" after eating, Heath said.

He wanted to highlight the importance of parents packing a lunch for their children or making sure their child packed their own lunch.

"It might not be a financial reason, though - some people just don't recognise how important it is."

- The Marlborough Express

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