I hear upsetting stories every day, but one in particular sticks with me. There was a little boy who often came to school without food. He was given a KidsCan lunch one day by his teacher and she saw him putting it into his bag. When she asked why he wasn’t eating it he said that he really liked the lunch, but he was taking it home to his mother as it was her birthday and there was no food at home.
This is what Kiwi kids living in hardship are dealing with. It’s why I started KidsCan, back in 2005, in my Auckland garage. I kept hearing media stories about child poverty and I wanted to find out how bad things were. I sent a pretty unsophisticated survey to eighty low decile schools asking them what their students’ didn’t have.
The response was overwhelming. Schools reported that thousands of children were missing out on the essentials that kids should take for granted: three meals a day, warm clothing, good shoes. It was having a huge impact on their education. They were disruptive in class, unable to concentrate because they were hungry. If it was cold or wet they just wouldn’t show up to school. Parents would keep children home, too embarrassed that they couldn’t provide.
If I see an issue I think I can help address then I'm going to find a practical way to do it. I think a big part of that comes back to my parents. They were always the first to put their hands up to help anyone in need in their community. So I quit my job and got a $40,000 grant from The Guardian Trust to get started. KidsCan was born.
We started out in 40 low decile schools, providing raincoats and snacks, packed, and sent from my home. Now we have a warehouse literally packed to the rafters with supplies for more than 850 schools nationwide: breakfast food, snacks, hot lunches, jackets, solid shoes, head lice treatment, hand sanitiser, tissues and more. In 2018 we expanded to reach our most vulnerable under 5s, and we now support thousands of children in more than 130 early childhood centres too. We deliver fresh food for snacks and lunches each week and provide gumboots, shoes and jackets so our preschoolers can play, whatever the weather.
There are still a lot of people who have no understanding of what it’s like to live in poverty in New Zealand, and the reasons behind it. The reality for many families is that housing costs swallow most of their budget, and some weeks there just isn’t enough money left after the bills are paid to eat properly.
It’s never the child’s fault - and it’s in the best interests of all New Zealanders to invest in these children while they are young, so they don’t grow up without hope, without a proper education and without a future. At KidsCan we believe education equals opportunity, and that every child should be able to reach their potential, no matter where they come from.
We are making a difference. Teachers tell us attendance jumps when they become a KidsCan partner school. Every child gets a warm jacket. Shoes with holes are discreetly replaced. With full tummies kids are more settled and less anxious, because they’re not worried about when they’re going to eat next. Teachers aren’t spending their own money and time buying food, so they can focus on teaching. And our support meant the little boy took food home for his mum on her birthday, and had a second lunch at school.