The effects of poverty on rangatahi can not only affect their own development and health, but also the hauora of their whanau.
Recognising that, Kura Kai, a local charity, has been trying to feed the need by filling the puku of rangatahi and their whanau in 30 locations around Aotearoa.
Kura Kai is the brainchild of Papamoa-based social media influencer Makaia Carr, who put the call out to her 60,000 Instagram followers during last year's alert level 4 lockdown.
"I was definitely thinking what could I do with my platform and this role to actually start making a difference in the community and start making some real impact out there that's going to help people, help whanau, help rangatahi," she says.
In one year, Makaia has managed to attract 200 volunteers who provide meals to 30 schools around Aotearoa.
"For many of our rangatahi, their high school education is potentially going to be their last free education that they may ever receive in their life, so if getting free kai to take home or nice kai to take home to their whanau, so they can stay in school and finish their education. If it's one less thing that their whanau needs to worry about or it's going to help, then that makes us happy," she says.
Sarah-Jane Terekia is a volunteer coordinator for Kura Kai in Porirua.
"Rangatahi were coming to school and then leaving by lunchtime, either because they're tired because they're hungry, no fuel in the body to keep going. Knowing that they've got a meal that they can grab that is actually going to get them through the day," she says.
Kura Kai fundraises for freezers which are then donated to schools.
Volunteers like Terekia cook hearty frozen meals to awhi whanau who struggle to put food on the table.
What makes Kura Kai unique is that rangatahi can choose to eat the kai at school or take meals home for their family, feeding a community.
Carr knows the struggle of not having enough. Growing up, there was a time when her mother was reliant on a Work and Income food grant to feed her whanau.
"We learned very quickly around budgeting, making food go a long way, so all these things which I'm trying to address now with the Kura Kai are things that have definitely always been in me as quite a whakamā thing, and quite a stigma and something I've carried and put a lot of judgement on myself about," she says.
"As an adult now and having my own family and my own children and opportunities and privilege makes me reflect so much on my mum and what she went through and how hard stuff was for her back then. I just feel really quite proud that my mahi now is helping to address some of those things."
Schools say the heat and eat meals are helping to reduce truancy rates and keep rangatahi in the classroom.
"The research is pretty clear that kids who are coming to school hungry, it's difficult for them to concentrate on learning, let alone be at school," says Te Puke High School principal Alan Liddell.
And since the COVID-19 pandemic, the pressures on whanau have intensified.
Mana College's social worker Jan Love says when the school was closed, many of their students were experiencing anxiety not seen before.
"This is their safe place, this is where they come to be looked after and cared for and for kids who were then stuck at home 24/7 with parents and other family members with mental health issues, with drug and alcohol issues, with offending issues, and poverty. It was huge," Love says.
While the college now receives the Government's free lunch programme, Love says being able to take Kura Kai meals home is making a huge difference to whanau.
"We have a lot of young people and their families who are in emergency accommodation and so the cooking facilities in emergency accommodation is not great," she says.
Four-and-a-half thousand meals have been donated so far, a massive achievement that wouldn't be possible without home chefs like Lily George.
"I get real satisfaction out of doing it, and I've got to say that as long as I'm able to, I will continue to support this kaupapa," she says.
"Thirty to 40 people cook regularly. They're not the same people always, we do have a couple that cook every week but anyone, even if it's a one-off, we're so appreciative. It's so easy for them to help. There's no pressure, there's no schedule, there's no expectation of how many meals they need to cook on what dates. It's just when you can, you can," Carr says.
Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and NZ On Air.