Poverty-stricken kids resort to scavenging
Children living in poverty are taking desperate measures to feed and clothe themselves at Waikato schools as families struggle to provide for their most basic needs.
In one case, a young boy without a winter jersey was told to steal one from the lost property by his mum because she couldn't afford to buy one, and another principal caught a child scavenging through rubbish bins for food.
Experts warn that, with winter approaching, the problem will only get worse.
Rhode Street School principal Shane Ngatai said he was disturbed to hear a boy at his school had been told to steal a winter jersey, or go without.
"We're seeing a number of them getting pinched," he said.
Kids are also coming to school wearing worn out shoes or barefoot, and hungry.
Rhode Street is one of 15 Waikato schools, and 200 nationwide, supported by KidsCan, a charity for underprivileged school children, which provides food, shoes and raincoats for decile one schools.
Mr Ngatai said his school received about 60 pairs of shoes and 50 jackets this year.
KidsCan founder Julie Helson said the need was growing with about 270,000 kids living in poverty, and 109 schools, including some in the Waikato, on the waiting list for assistance.
"We're providing food for 4500 a day and we know from our figures that the real estimate of the number of children going hungry is about 15,000 a day," she said.
She received an email from a Waikato principal who said a child had been caught rummaging through rubbish bins for food.
There have also been cases of siblings taking turns to attend school as they have to share one pair of shoes, and kids having their lunch stolen by others who haven't eaten for over 24 hours.
Paeroa Central School KidsCan co-ordinator Karen Short said some kids were also skipping school because they had no food. However, she said KidsCan providing bread, muesli bars and fruit pottles had made a positive difference.
"It's allowing the parents to send their kids to school knowing that we weren't going to leave them hungry," she said.
"If they're fed then they're going to be thinking and they can learn."
Poverty Action Waikato researcher Anna Cox said the region has seen a "surge in need" over the past year, and it would become more severe over winter months.
She recently started researching poverty in Waikato schools and some principals have reported a "noticeable" increase in poverty-related issues during the first few months of this year.
However, she said there was a growing number of initiatives in schools to combat poverty that were yielding positive results, including free breakfasts and school gardens.