I would say 90-95% of our families live below that poverty line. The majority of our children haven’t had breakfast when they come in. They’re absolutely hungry. Some might come in with a pack of noodles to get them through the day, or if there’s a sibling that one pack is to be halved between the two children.
We have parents who will ring and say, “We can’t come to preschool today” and when we’ve dug a little bit more it’s because payday isn’t until Wednesday and they don’t have any food. Pride is a big thing, and we’re very aware of that, but we tell them we’ll feed them - we supply toast and fruit and crackers.
We’ve applied for KidsCan support - the big thing that jumped out for us was the kai, a hot healthy lunch every day. Healthy food is out of reach for 95% of our families. It’s not cheap to buy produce, it’s not cheap to buy good food.
And warm shoes and a waterproof jacket, you would not believe how much of a luxury those are for families. We take that stuff for granted, but it’s winter and we’ve got children rolling in with holes in their shoes, still in sandals or slippers. We have children wearing the same jersey all week because they don’t have spares.
Their parents try really hard but they can’t wash them and get them dry for the next day because they’re living in damp homes without heating. They have a fire but they can’t afford wood. Quite a few are on prepaid power and sometimes it runs out before payday, so they have no power, no hot water, no nothing for a day or two.
So we are working really hard on wellbeing. We get targeted funding and we use that purely for bridging gaps. It’s not enough but we try and stretch it as far as we can. During lockdown we helped with groceries. We can bath the kids and wash their clothes, we’ve got spares we can pop on them. We have a community support worker to help with food grants, or just to sit down and talk. Sometimes people just can’t see ways out of situations and all that stress starts having this domino effect, but a little bit of support helps them see a little bit of light.
It’s tough. We’re a community centre, money isn’t an endless supply, Covid’s hit. On teachers it’s emotionally taxing, just as it would be on whānau too having to deal with it everyday. We all do it because we love it - our kids are incredible - but it doesn’t mean to say we don’t get a bit worn down from it all.
KidsCan supports more than 2000 children in 61 early childhood centres. 119 more centres have asked for help. To support vulnerable Kiwi preschoolers with food, shoes, raincoats and health items sign up to support a child now.