Kiwi kids are starting the 2021 school year with empty stomachs and lacking basic supplies, with one principal describing poverty in New Zealand as "a common enemy".
It comes as research for KidsCan by Colmar Brunton last week revealed the toughness of back-to-school as families struggle with costs.
At Kopuarahi School near Thames, some children have been arriving without the basics, with principal Chris Patel describing poverty in New Zealand as "a crisis".
Patel told The AM Show families are struggling to get by.
"We've now got a greater number of people with real struggles. It's not OK - these are our precious tamariki," he said.
"They're not going to engage and thrive and succeed if their pukus aren't full [and] if they're warm and dry."
While it wasn't a new problem, Patel said the issue has worsened.
"We are seeing a sharper end of the stick; greater numbers."
Patel said often families with two incomes are spending most of their earnings on rent, leaving minimal money for basics.
"We've now got a greater number of people with real struggles, and some of those families are having to go into emergency housing."
The Colmar Brunton/KidsCan research found that children having empty stomachs was "just one aspect of the myriad of functional challenges".
According to the research, "teachers are getting hit from all angles" and paying for items for students with their own money.
"I go to second-hand shops on my weekend to buy togs and towels so the kids can do swimming lessons," one principal told researchers.
The study also found children were arriving at school looking "sickly and not energetic" and showing signs of "stunted growth".
These findings were echoed by what Patel witnesses at her own school. She said some children are sharing a bed with two or three siblings, who would often share uniforms.
"I've got a loaf of bread ready to take today for my school - the parents have tried to give them something but it's just not enough - this is rife and it's not just decile one schools. This is also in decile 10 schools."
Challenges faced at the start of the school year had only been worsened by COVID-19, KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman said.
She said children aren't arriving at school ready to learn.
"Many are hungry, missing a uniform, shoes and stationery."
Chapman said poverty was affecting the lives of too many children.
"This is too big a burden for our young people to bear."