Last Monday morning bright and early (well, early at least) I knocked on the door of a house in Hamilton East, a house that looks quite ordinary from the outside, but where every week day morning something quite extraordinary happens. I was warmly welcomed, handed a cup of tea, and over the next few minutes other people started arriving.
This house is ‘headquarters’ for Kai 4 the Future Foundation, and every school day a group of volunteers gather to make sandwiches which are then delivered to over 40 schools around the Waikato, including Hamilton, Huntly, Ngaruawahia and elsewhere. In a remarkably short time, and with a minimum of fuss, a great pile of loaves of bread, meats, lettuce, tomato, egg, relish and sauce is converted into hearty sandwiches, destined for the hands and bellies of kids who otherwise would be likely to be going through their afternoon at school running on empty.
There is something slightly incongruous about people, some of them heavily tattooed and sporting gang colours, also wearing hair nets and disposable gloves while standing around a plain wooden table, all working flat out to prepare lunches for hundreds of kids. I posed the obvious question to a number of them – why?
The answer, without exception, was some variation of ‘because I’ve been there’. They know from experience that kids who are hungry can’t learn well. They know that kids are more likely to turn up to school every day if they know they will get food for the body as well as the mind. Just getting them through the school gates every day means their chances of succeeding with basic literacy, numeracy and opening the door to further education is much enhanced.
If a group of people with ‘colourful’ histories, who will never be mistaken for traditional ‘pillars of society’, can work out that making sure kids get fed every day is giving those kids a better chance at life, why is it taking the Key government so long to make the same link?
The choice is fairly obvious – we can invest in looking after our kids now, or we can pretend there isn’t a problem and end up bearing a much greater human, societal and economic cost later.