Working in partnership with the community to tackle student hunger at Linwood College

Students at many lower decile schools throughout New Zealand suffer from hunger or poor nutrition. Evidence shows that this affects young people’s behaviour and ability to learn, as well as their physical health.

When registered school-based nurse Jennifer Deane started work in the clinic at Linwood College, Christchurch, in 2012, she noticed that many of the students she saw were hungry. Some teachers she spoke to told her that hunger was affecting the students’ performance.

At the time, Linwood College ran a breakfast club, offering breakfast to those students whose families struggled to provide it. However, not many students were making use of it. The club was being held at 8am, two days a week, which was too early and too infrequent for many students. In addition, there was stigma attached to attending the club.   

Jennifer began using her own money to buy bread, spreads and fruit for students who came to the clinic hungry. Demand quickly rose to a level that was too high for Jennifer to afford, and she started to find that the numbers of students visiting the clinic for food diverted her time and attention from those needing health care. 

Linwood College decided to reform the existing breakfast club. Jennifer worked with the head of the college’s home economics department, Robyn Hudson, along with Canterbury District Health Board health promoter Megan Bryce and Linwood College youth workers. They worked to establish a daily breakfast club that was accessible and socially acceptable for the students, and sustainable for the school.

The new breakfast club was held in the morning tea break, in the college’s training restaurant, which could fit more students and had better facilities. To tackle the issue of stigma, the team encouraged the atmosphere of a social gathering where all students – not only the hungry ones – were welcome.  

Jennifer and Robyn promoted the breakfast club by putting up notices around the school and sending an email to teachers asking them to encourage students to attend. Jennifer recommended the club to students who came to the clinic hungry, and youth workers helped to spread the word.

Robyn sought support for the club from local businesses and community groups. Through the resulting partnerships:

  • Sanitarium and Fonterra provide Weet-Bix and milk through the KickStart programme
  • Coupland’s Bakery provides bread
  • a local church group donates Milo and spreads
  • Southern Hospitality supplies crockery
  • David Reid Homes, PlaceMakers Riccarton and Addington Raceway sponsor the club financially.

The breakfast club started with an average attendance of 10 to 15, but numbers quickly rose. Now, between 50 and 90 students usually attend every day.

Jennifer has observed that few students now come to Linwood College clinic hungry. Teachers have commented that they are seeing better performance and more settled behaviour from students. ‘The biggest difference we’ve made is to feed hungry kids,’ says Jennifer. ‘It helps to boost student achievement. They’re in school, and they’re ready and able to succeed.’

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