Julie Chapman, KidsCan

Breakfast and a raincoat are, to many children, a given. But too many New Zealand youngsters do not have these basic needs met. They arrive at school hungry, barefoot, wet and cold.

KidsCan founder, Julie Chapman, is helping to fix this.

The concept was born in Julie’s Auckland garage 12 years ago. It supports the education of children in low-decile schools by providing food, shoes, socks, fleece-lined raincoats and basic hygiene items.   

KidsCan allows a child to participate and be equal with their peers, Julie says.

“It brings a sense of belonging, a feeling of value so they can get on with being kids and not have to worry about their next meal, or whether or not they can play sport or go on a school trip with their friends because they don’t have shoes or wet weather gear. That causes all sorts of stress; it’s not good for the family, it’s not good for the child.”

The idea to help New Zealand kids came about after hearing constant media reports of children going without the basics. Disheartened, Julie did some research.

“I put questions to 80 low-decile schools to see how widespread the problem was and how it was affecting children in the classroom. I asked things like, ‘are children coming to school without food?’ and ‘do children stay at home when it rains?’”

She found there were three common items school children were going without: food, raincoats and shoes. These may be basic necessities, yet, as Julie quickly discovered, the repercussions of not having them were widespread.

“The problem was much bigger than I expected. Literally thousands of children were disruptive in class and causing fights because they were hungry. Children weren’t showing up to school in winter, or in wet weather, because they didn’t have raincoats, shoes and other material basics,” she says.

When KidsCan began in 2005, the charity fed and clothed children across 40 low-decile schools. Now it reaches close to 650 schools: 25,000 children a week.

Two years ago, it introduced health and hygiene items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and sanitary products.

Last December, the KidsCan team planted more than 300 fruit trees in schools to provide children with ongoing healthy snacks. 

Non-perishable foods like baked beans, yoghurt makers and sachets, scroggin mix and bread spreads are dropped off at schools every term.

Bread, raincoats, shoes and socks as well as health and hygiene products are handed out year round.

Auckland children are most in need, followed by Northland, Wellington and Christchurch. And there are more than 1,000 children in 18 schools across the country on the waiting list. Julie says 50 cents a day will give a school food for a year and equip a child with a raincoat, shoes, two pairs of socks and health and hygiene projects.

Julie would like to see all families have enough for the basic cost of living, as well as enjoy life and provide for their children without struggling on a daily basis. She believes everyone has a part to play: the government, local businesses and the community can all have an impact on a family’s ability to meet the cost of living.

“I’d like to see workers be paid a living wage, the government invest in warm, dry homes, as that’s a contributing factor to children falling sick, and I’d like to see the community not be so judgemental.

“Everyone has their own story and you can’t judge everybody by thinking they’re doing the wrong thing with their money. In the ten-plus years I’ve been doing this, I haven’t met a single parent who doesn’t want the absolute best for their child.”

Reported by Monica Tischler for our AA Directions Summer 2018 issue

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