Leftover free school lunches used to feed hungry, concern over Government review

By Mahvash Ikram for RNZ

Having access to leftover school lunches is helping curb crime, a woman living in a West Auckland caravan park says.

She said without the free meals she would go hungry and "probably go stealing from the supermarket".

"As long as everyone's full, got something to eat, it just kind of brings the crime down a little bit. Not a lot, but that's my theory anyway," she said.

It comes as the government's Healthy School Lunches programme Ka Ora, Ka Ako is under review.

One of the caravan park residents, Owen Cooper, who works for the Ranui Baptist Community Care Trust which runs a food bank, brought over the left over school lunches.

For several of his neighbours it was their first proper meal of the day, he said.

"I pick up these school lunches at about two in the afternoon."

"Whatever school lunches can be kept for the next day I will put into my food bank."

And the things that could not be stored, he took to the caravan park.

"At least that way somebody's getting a bit of a meal," he said.

A total of four schools, with at least 300 children on their roll, donated surplus food to the trust.

Cooper said he personally understood how much the leftovers helped those living in the park.

His eyes welled up as he explained three years ago he was not a good place and the lunches helped him get through his day.

Every time the meals arrived he said it meant he could eat instead of "just scraping by".

"I've got a 14-year-old dog. At the least, I would turn around and give her one of those little school lunches."

Associate Minister of Education David Seymour has said he was considering cutting the funding by up to half, as nearly 10,000 meals were being wasted every day.

But Cooper said that was not his experience, and on average he picked up 30 leftover lunches from each school.

Occasionally, there were days when there would be a lot of food donated, but that was when the students were not at school.

"If they have a day where perhaps the kids are going on a school camp, then in that situation there's going to be excess left over. And it's easier that they're utilised in the community instead of just throwing away."

In fact, some days the schools had nothing to donate.

"I have other people in the park knocking on my door saying 'Hey, mate, where's the meals?' And I've got to say, 'look, there wasn't anything today, but I've got a packet of noodles in my cabin you can have'."

Ranui Baptist Community Care Trust food bank was run on donations.

Owen said many families would go empty handed if it wasn't for these leftovers.

"The amount of food that's been donated is shrinking rather rapidly, and people are coming to see us but the cupboard is empty."

He said the school lunches came in handy at such times.

"It's an extra little thing that we can pop into a box and say, 'Look, here's a school lunch or two, at least it's dinner for tonight'."

Occasionally, the trust received kai that was not fit for consumption, but even that was not thrown away

"We send it through to a cattle farmer who has a pig problem on their property, they will feed it to the feral pigs, shoot a pig every now and then we get that pig back, we provide that for a community meal once a month or once every two months," Owen said.

On a Friday, the day's leftovers were put into parcels for families to collect.

Trust Manager Elesha Thomas said cutting funding for the Healthy School Lunches programme would impact these whānau.

"[In] one food parcel, if you have a family of six, we would put about six-eight [meals] in there because they are quite small packages

"We do about 66 on average food parcels on a Friday."

And for many of those who lived at the caravan park, pulling the plug on the Healthy School Lunches programme meant they could lose their only meal of the day.

But one resident said he would find a way to get by.

"It's more the kids I'd be worried about."