Hungry children fed by teachers

School staff in the Waikato are forking out their own food and money so students don't go hungry, according to new research into school food programmes in the region.

One low decile school reported half of its children were arriving hungry each week, while others said a lack of access to good food was causing high non-attendance rates because kids were getting sick.

Poverty Action Waikato researcher Anna Cox has been looking at food provision in the region's schools since March in an effort to "break the cycle" of child poverty and encourage more schools to introduce food programmes.

"It became apparent that something needs to be done around food, and schools are a great resource in that way for a community."

Preliminary research results showed the extent to which schools were seeing hungry kids varied across the region.

One school, that did not have a food provision programme, estimated half of its pupils were turning up to class hungry, while another said it was only concerned for one family.

Schools also said teachers and staff were using personal resources to feed students, with one principal providing eggs and bread to ensure children had the food they needed to learn.

However, Ms Cox said there were a high number of schools with positive initiatives, including school gardens, cooking classes and breakfast and lunch programmes.

Hillcrest Normal School has a Vege Village, a backyard garden and a small orchard, which pupils helped to plant and harvest. Principal Irene Cooper said, while the school was decile nine and only a small number of pupils needed assistance, "no child goes hungry".

"We always keep in our freezers bread and spreads and things like that and there's always a shared fruit basket in the staffroom so . . . children will get fed.

"It's often for emergency situations - someone's got caught out for whatever reason. No-one intends to send their child to school hungry, or wants to."

Putaruru's Te Wharekura o Te Kaokaoroa o Patetere principal Keith Silveira said the school provided breakfast and lunch for all 150 students each day for $10 per week.

The menu included cereals and cooked meals, including two roasts each week.

"It's part of our holistic approach to school really. Instead of paying a truancy officer to go and tell kids to come to school we think you should make it better for them to come to school."

Charities such as St Vincent de Paul delivered 16,000 school lunches to 19 Hamilton schools last year and, as of May this year, 12 Waikato schools were on the waiting list for KidsCan support. About 2900 Waikato students are also in the KickStart breakfast programme.

Ms Cox said it was difficult to quantify the benefits of food programmes but schools reported reduced behavioral issues and better concentration in class.

jonathan.carson@waikatotimes.co.nz

Waikato Times