School food programmes success lies in community partnerships

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School food programmes success lies in community partnerships

School food programmes success lies in community partnerships

Opinion Editorial by Dr Bonnie Robinson MNZM

Chief Executive, Presbyterian Support Northern

Every day at May Road School in Mt Roskill, children and families are welcomed with free, high-quality bread donated by the local New World.

No surplus remains at the end of the day. Every loaf is taken home.

May Road School’s student population reflects Auckland’s multicultural fabric. Its students and families represent diverse backgrounds, including solo parents navigating the challenges of raising children alone, grandparents who have assumed custody, low-wage earners striving to make ends meet, and refugees and migrants adapting to new beginnings.

Presbyterian Support Northern’s Communities Feeding Communities (CFC) initiative is partnering with the school to help deliver good food to kids who might otherwise go without.

In addition to the bread, each week sees a different class receiving fresh produce packs on Fridays from CFC’s Mt Roskill community garden and foodbank.

Many people and organisations play a role, from the New World providing bread, to CFC’s weekly produce packs, and CFC staff volunteering once a week to help with serving the school’s daily free breakfast.

Teachers, often the frontline observers of student wellbeing, discreetly identify families in urgent need. PSN’s on-site social worker, part of a network of more than 100 spanning West and South Auckland, also contributes to the support network for these kids and families.

This holistic approach, depending on many hands, is how we believe change is best forged for those who might otherwise remain “invisible” – those who find it hard to access help.

From our experience at May Rd School, we strongly believe that school-based food programmes are indispensable.

Their success, however, lies in tailoring them to each school’s context and working closely with the community they serve.

What we did differently was to ask the school for its needs and preferences.

We believe need for these initiatives will only grow as unemployment figures begin to creep upwards. The most recent Ministry of Social Development figures show the number of people receiving a main benefit in January has increased by around 22,900 people or 6.5 percent compared to the same time last year.

MSD also notes MBIE’s Jobs Online All Vacancies Index indicates that demand for labour has decreased, as the number of online job advertisements in the year to December 2023 fell by 28.6 percent.

And the latest Child Poverty statistics show more families are going without household essentials due to the rise in the cost of living.

In the leadup to the May Budget, we would urge the Government to think carefully before they make any changes to free lunches for New Zealand’s lowest decile schools.

Ka Ora, Ka Ako, provides free lunches to more than 22,000 students across New Zealand.

While we note last year’s Treasury assessment questioned the efficacy of the free school lunch scheme, highlighting significant meal wastage nationwide, this must be weighed against the positive findings from a University of Auckland study in Hawke’s Bay.

This research, led by Pippa McKelvie-Sebileau and her team, unveiled improved financial security for families and a shift toward healthier eating habits among students. Notably, the study found that meals prepared by on-site chefs, attuned to students’ preferences, yielded higher consumption rates compared to standardised offerings, and therefore less wastage.

The study suggested that local initiatives, providing local employment and a personal touch, foster an environment where higher-quality food can be offered and greater impact seen.

This underscores a fundamental principle: communities thrive when granted autonomy, resources, and the freedom to innovate.

As the partnership between May Road School and CFC deepens, new avenues of support for its students and their families are emerging.

A growing demand for pre-prepared, frozen meals underscores a reality faced by many families – the challenge of providing nourishing meals consistently. CFC’s response – providing dishes like a wholesome chilli con carne, rich in lentils, beans, and vegetables – extends beyond immediate need. It also educates and empowers families to diversify their culinary repertoire, fostering independence and resilience.

In a landscape often overshadowed by statistics, May Road School stands as an example of the power of community-driven solutions that will become even more important as New Zealand’s economy slows and tips out the vulnerable. It showcases that progress is often best rooted in partnerships, collaboration, and a tailored approach that resonates with the unique needs of each school and engages its community.

We urge the government to consider input from those on the frontline before wholesale axing of a programme that, with tweaks, could do so much more for our poorest kids.


Communities Feeding Communities receives no Government funding and welcomes any support. Donations can be made at: Donate – Presbyterian Support Northern (