Hot lunch on menu at Oceanview Heights

23:22, Aug 29 2012
ocean heights lunch
TUCKING IN: Arzliea Smith, 6, and Crystal Mehrthens, 7, enjoy a tasty meal of macaroni cheese at Oceanview Heights School yesterday. The meals are provided each Wednesday by a group of volunteers, led by Gay Bartlett.

Timaru's Gay Bartlett and her team of helpers are making sure no child at Oceanview Heights School goes without a home-cooked nutritious meal.

The former caterer, who now works in the travel industry, cooks scrumptious and healthy meals at the decile-2 school each Wednesday. And all she asks for is a small donation.

But even then, any child who wants a meal will get one. Some weeks she will feed up to 70 children. The school's roll is 89.

"It makes a difference ... at least we know they get a nice hot nutritious meal once a week."

Her team of three regular helpers includes a retired Rotarian who takes care of the dishes.

An expert advisory group created by the Children's Commissioner recommended this week all low-decile schools offered pupils free food in an immediate effort to tackle child poverty.


Mrs Bartlett was approached two years ago about providing meals at Oceanview Heights.

She had previously run a bistro in Invercargill and catered for up to 500 people. "When you've done large catering groups it's easy."

The children flocked to the hall for their lunch.

She is grateful for Alpine Energy's support in helping get started. Local bakeries also gave bread, and any surplus was given to the office staff who distributed it accordingly.

Mrs Bartlett said making sure children had a nutritious meal each week was something she felt strongly about.

"We give to World Vision and all the rest of it and I thought hang on, let's give to our children first."

She has learnt to be crafty in disguising vegetables, using a food processor to turn broccoli into small bits that are slipped into lasagne. Her meals complement the school's "breakfast club", where cereal, toast and Milo are provided, and its free fruit initiative.

Mrs Bartlett believes similar schemes could be rolled out at all schools.

"I'd like to see that. I'd be quite happy to help other schools to set it up."

Deputy principal Sandi Abel said the meals took some of the pressure off families that were struggling.

"Definitely for some families they're on very, very low incomes. This guarantees [the children] are going to get a healthy lunch."

The Timaru Herald