It’s hard to concentrate on schoolwork when you have an empty stomach.
Sadly that’s a reality for hundreds of Rotorua children every day. But a new low-cost school lunch order service called Ka Pai Kai is now making a huge difference for up to 800 primary school children every week.
“The feedback we’ve had from schools is that attendance rates are better and concentration levels are better,” explains Ka Pai Kai Rotorua Treasurer Aroha Dorset. “Kids like going to school more because they know they’re going to be fed. We’re also having an impact by changing their palates away from sweet and salty food so healthy food is becoming more normal for them.”
The Ka Pai Kai initiative first began in Tokoroa and was brought to Rotorua in mid-2017 by nutritionist Jasmin Jackson who founded a new charitable trust.
Two Rotorua schools initially signed on but that has now grown to nine, with low-cost lunches now being delivered to each school between one and three days a week.
“The cost of each lunch covers the ingredients and packaging only,” Aroha says. “We try and source everything locally where we can. There are a few food networks that drop stuff off to us so whatever we’ve got, we’ll use. Each lunch is designed to be nutritious, filling and affordable.”
Prices vary from $2.50 for soup and a bread roll, up to $4.50 for a hot lasagna or cottage pie. “We change our menu from summer to winter and keep things varied. We also do ‘munch and crunch’ packs containing carrots, celery, hummus and cherry tomatoes. Each recipe is analysed by the Heart Foundation to make sure it meets nutritional guidelines.”
A core group of 30 volunteers take turns working in the community kitchen at Taharangi Marae throughout the week, before delivering the pre-ordered meals to each school before the lunchtime bell rings.
Te Arawa Fisheries, Tamaki Tours and Te Puia have also come on board to subsidise meals for certain schools – some are entirely free as a result, while others are $1 cheaper than the normal price.
BayTrust has recently granted $12,500 to Ka Pai Kai Rotorua to help cover operational costs and expand their reach over the next 12 months.
“We are absolutely stoked,” Aroha says. “Because we only sell lunches at cost, we need to find money to fund all of our overheads. Every bit helps, especially when we’re starting off and trying to grow. Growing actually costs a lot of money.”
Ka Pai Kai hopes to set up its own commercial kitchen shortly and buy more equipment, so it can service more Rotorua schools and establish an income stream.
“One of our main goals is to be self-sustaining,” Aroha says. Ideas on how to do that include selling workplace lunches, frozen meals for family dinners, and a lunch bar to local mountain bikers or people attending multisport events in Rotorua.
“We’re also looking to get into the education space as well by setting up cooking classes, running school holiday programmes or teaching kids about nutrition in the classroom. We don’t just want to feed them, we want to teach them to feed themselves.”
Aroha says new volunteers are always welcome, especially those with skills and experience working in a large kitchen. “It’s really fast-paced in there so anyone who can walk in and find their way around a kitchen is always desirable.”
Poverty continues to be a major challenge in New Zealand and Aroha believes more people are now aware of the levels of hardship that exist. “You see these kids in the middle of winter walking to school with no jerseys and no shoes on. You just know they haven’t got anything decent to eat for lunch either.
“Ka Pai Kai is about getting people to do something about that and be part of the solution.”