Tue, Apr 16, 2024 4:00 PM

School lunch funding fears


William Woodworth

Fears over funding cuts for free school lunches could hit Marlborough hard.

Nine schools across Marlborough offer a free school lunch as part of The Ka Ora, Ka Ako/Healthy School Lunches programme.

But threats by Associate Education Minister David Seymour to cut the funding by half will have a negative effect on pupils, say local principals.

Picton School principal Katie Talbot and Spring Creek School principal Cheryl Alderlieste are adamant the initiative makes a positive difference.

“In order for tamariki to learn, they need to be happy, healthy, and well nourished,” Katie says.

“We are grateful for the support from the Government in funding Ka Ora Ka Ako as it means that our tamariki come to school, they're fed a delicious healthy meal, and they are learning.”

Thousands of free school lunches are distributed each week throughout Marlborough.

Katie says the programme, which began in 2019, has seen a boost in attendance, focus and learning. Social skills have also benefited.

“Our lucky tamariki enjoy a range of balanced meals, they taste different meats with chicken, beef, lamb, pork and venison and try new flavours with fresh sandwiches, salads, and fruit every day.”

Ka Ora, Ka Ako supplies more than a million lunches each week to nearly 1000 schools and kura across the country.

Government funding of the scheme is only confirmed to the end of 2024 and cuts have been threatened due to wastage.

Full tummies and eating together at the end of lunchtime is a big part of Spring Creek School lunches. Photo: Supplied/Spring Creek School.

Spring Creek School have seen many benefits too, says Cheryl, including building connections with local iwi Ngāti Rarua.

“The team at Ngāti Rarua have become part of our school - we have special connections, the children know the team, and they know the children by name and sometimes they will stay for kai with our tamariki.

“They engage with kids, ask for feedback on the kai, bring in samples so children can learn about what the food is and where it comes from.”

Cheryl and Katie say waste is not an issue for them.

“We have minimal waste, and any leftover kai goes home with the children”, Cheryl says.

“We dish up the kai onsite with the help of senior students, and children often will try a small amount then almost always come back for more.

“Anything left over gets packed into containers to go home with whānau, which itself is so amazing – we’re very passionate about this programme and the benefits it has had on our school, our tamariki and whanau.

“This has become so much more than 'lunches in schools', this is something very special.”

Katie says Picton School’s pride in being an enviroschool means wastage is virtually eliminated.

“Our tamariki are served a lunch, they can come and help themself to fresh fruit and any leftovers.

“At the end of eating time all lunchboxes are scraped into a pig bin and the waste is taken to a local pig farm.

“Schools must have good systems in place to steward the taxpayer dollar, and there must continue to be high accountability on schools to use this funding wisely, and for the long-term benefits, like teaching about a healthy and balanced diet.”

A decision on funding will be made in the next Budget announcement on 30 May.

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