Free lunches are an investment, not a handout, says provider iwi

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Left to right, Victory School students Bathsheba Sung Zi Hlawnceu, Lung Ning Ching and Anna Sang enjoying lunches provided by the local iwi Ngāti Rārua, as part of the Ka Ora, Ka Ako/Healthy School program Lunches.

Katy Jones/Nelson Courier

Left to right, Victory School students Bathsheba Sung Zi Hlawnceu, Lung Ning Ching and Anna Sang enjoying lunches provided by the local iwi Ngāti Rārua, as part of the Ka Ora, Ka Ako/Healthy School program Lunches.

Having the local iwi, Ngāti Rārua, provide lunches for Victory School students doesn’t just help keep the kids well fed.

According to the Nelson School and the iwi, this nurtured a “natural” relationship and added to the students’ understanding of tikanga/Maori practices and values.

Ngāti Rārua has been providing lunches to over 300 bilingual primary school children for a year through the Ministry of Education Ka Ora, Ka Ako / Healthy School Meals Program.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Rārua general manager Shane Graham said the iwi’s successful bid for the school’s contract offered much more than a free lunch.

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A meal provided by the local Ngāti Rārua iwi at Nelson's Victory School as part of the Ka Ora, Ka Ako / Healthy School Lunches program.

Katy Jones/Nelson Courier

A meal provided by the local Ngāti Rārua iwi at Nelson’s Victory School as part of the Ka Ora, Ka Ako / Healthy School Lunches program.

“We don’t see it as a handout… We see it as an investment in our tamariki.”

The Ngāti Rārua children were among those who attended the Victory School in the inner suburb of Toi Toi, and the iwi had an affinity for the land on which the Victory School sat, Graham said.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Rārua President Olivia Hall said many students were proud to see people they knew delivering their kai/food.

“It is very good for tamariki and ngāti rārua Maori children to see theirs arrive and give birth [food to] them and all their friends.

“It’s a nice way to make the playground the same for all learners, that it doesn’t matter if you have food at home, you’re always fed.”

Ngāti Rārua was now providing lunches at another school in Nelson and “having conversations” about doing it at other schools.

Providing food was part of the iwi’s DNA, so it seemed natural to help provide school meals, the pair said.

“We have long been known for our ability to feed our people, whether at a marae or other events,” Graham said.

The iwi delivered lunches in eco-friendly packaging and sourced local food, he said.

There was minimal waste, with many leftover lunches brought home by tamariki — and people who took the kai complained there was nothing left to take away, Graham said.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Rārua President Olivia Hall, left, with Victory School Principal Dan George.  Ngāti Rārua delivers lunches to the school and another in Nelson under the Ka Ora, Ka Ako / Healthy School Lunches program.

Katy Jones/Nelson Courier

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Rārua President Olivia Hall, left, with Victory School Principal Dan George. Ngāti Rārua delivers lunches to the school and another in Nelson under the Ka Ora, Ka Ako / Healthy School Lunches program.

Student Anna Sang, 10, said she loves lunches.

“You don’t have to bring your own lunch…it’s good for my parents too.”

Victory School headmaster Dan George, who became headmaster 16 months ago, said Ngāti Rārua providing lunches was really important for the school – which has both Maori and English middle classes.

The program has had “tremendous benefits” for tamariki in terms of equity, he said.

“We have 325 lunches provided each day, and everyone gets the exact same lunch. We know it’s nutritious, we know it meets health standards, it has benefits in terms of concentration and learning levels for our tamariki.

“Another thing we noticed is the whole culture around food, so watching the kai with karakia (prayers), people eating together, sharing korero (conversation) while they eat, that kind of thing is I guess a hidden benefit that we didn’t really expect initially.

26 schools participate in the program in Nelson/Marlborough/West Coast.

It’s been two years since the government expanded the scheme in response to Covid-19, and Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti recently visited Victory School to celebrate the milestone.

Nelson MP Rachel Boyack from Labour, said she was getting ‘great feedback’ from schools where the scheme was in place, including those with different providers.

Nelson schools involved included Tāhuanui School, Auckland Point, Nelson Intermediate and Stoke School.

Schools were chosen from the applications based on their decile profile, she said.

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