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‘A Quarter Of A Sandwich For Tea’ - Teachers Share Harrowing Stories As Children Return To School Hungry

Teachers say an increasing number of children will return to school without the very basics this year, with the cost-of-living crisis deepening poverty in many communities. KidsCan surveyed its partner schools, with hundreds sharing heart-wrenching stories: children surviving on instant noodles, siblings sharing uniforms and shoes, and more students missing school as they work to support their families.

“There are too many heartbreaking stories to tell from our kura,” one teacher wrote. “I had one child tell me that they get a 1/4 of a sandwich for tea and look forward to coming to school so they can eat. They said they hate the holidays as that means there is no food.”

“[Students] will arrive without stationery, book bags, school bags, PE shorts, a sun hat, a water bottle and some won't return until the whānau have saved up the money to buy these things. Such is their pride,” a principal reported.

KidsCan asked schools if poverty was improving or worsening in their communities. 65% of the 347 schools who responded said it was getting worse. 15 per cent said it was static. Just six per cent thought it was improving. Unaffordable housing was a major factor, with schools reporting children growing up in motels, tents and overcrowded homes, including 14 people in one two-bedroom house.

47 schools reported students who had taken on part-time jobs to help their families survive - or left school altogether to work. A teacher spoke of students falling asleep in class after working all night. A principal reported primary school children were working as farm hands. Attendance had also suffered as students looked after their siblings while their parents worked additional jobs.

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“Student in Year 13 now has a scholarship to uni but will not be going as the household needs them to go to work,” a teacher wrote. “They say it is just for the year, but we all know, including them, that this won't be the case.”

The burden to help is increasingly falling on schools, with many funding stationery, uniforms, school trips and even sports fees. “We can't ask our whānau to pay fees for these things because they don't have enough money for bread and milk each week,” a principal said.

“I’ve had students in tears because they no longer fit uniforms and don’t want to ask their parents for a new one,” another reported.

With families unable to afford petrol, some schools had bought vans and were rostering their staff to pick children up. “Many mornings I run around the town like a ‘taxi’ picking up children to get them to kura,” a principal said.

In response, KidsCan has launched an urgent appeal to support vulnerable children as they return to school. The charity provides food, shoes, jackets and health items to tens of thousands of students in nearly 900 schools nationwide, so they can arrive ready to learn. Thousands more in 77 schools are waiting for support – KidsCan’s biggest waitlist since 2018 - but it can’t reach them without more donations.

“This is always the hardest time of the year for vulnerable families as they face crippling back to school costs - but 2024 may be the toughest yet,” KidsCan’s CEO Julie Chapman says. “We’re facing record demand with thousands of students waiting for help. Schools aren’t just asking us for food and clothing - some need shampoo, soap and toothpaste. The essentials are becoming luxuries.

“Our charity is under huge pressure. Donations are dropping as people are forced to tighten their belts. It’s heartbreaking not to be able to support the schools on our waitlist. Every child deserves to be well fed and clothed so they can just focus on learning - because education is their best chance at getting out of poverty. We urgently need donations from those who can afford to make a difference.”

To donate visit: www.kidscan.org.nz

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