‘Learning about food insecurity through the Sanitarium Good Start Breakfast Club has been an interesting and heartbreaking journey for me. To think about kids in this country going to school with no food in their tummies (and sometimes no lunch packed either), is a harrowing thought. I have found myself every morning, being very thankful for the packet of Weet-Bix in my pantry and that I am able to provide a nutritious breakfast for my kids on a daily basis. I absolutely do not take this for granted.
Meeting the kids at the Sanitarium Breakfast Club and hearing their stories made this issue a reality. I am passionate to see change in this area of our country. Another person who has the same passion is Ian Steel who runs Kick Start for Kids, a program helping kids in South Australia (where I grew up!).
His program believes that every child, regardless of their social or economic background, should have an equal chance in life. I had the chance to do a Q&A with Ian to ask him the difference that Kick Start for Kids makes in the lives of kids.
Could you tell me a bit about Kickstart for Kids and why you wanted to get involved with the kids in your community?
My interest has always been helping kids in the lower socio-economic primary schools through mentoring. While I was mentoring in these schools I noticed a massive behavioral difference between the kids at the schools I was mentoring in and the schools were my kids attended..these kids could not concentrate, had low levels of self esteem, were very angry all the time, couldn’t make friends, and were regularly late for school or didn’t even attend.
I couldn’t work out why so I started to do some research. I spoke to the kids themselves, teachers, principles, social workers and the police and what I found absolutely horrified me. I found kids who were sleeping in cars, had no clothes, no basic hygiene products, kids starving, having to eat dog food, or having to go through bins to find food. I couldn’t believe this was happening in Adelaide, an affluent first world city where kids were living in third world conditions…describing themselves as stray dogs, basically just wandering the streets looking for food and love.
I realised I couldn’t take them all home but what I could do was give them breakfast which would make them feel good for the day ahead and encourage them to get to school. I realised that education is the way to get these kids out of the unemployment and poverty cycle that their families had been in for generations. Hungry kids can’t learn.
Why is the work Kickstart for Kids does so important?
We give these kids a community that cares and loves them and our breakfast programs give the kids somewhere to go and eat before school, which, in turn, helps them to become educated and stay at school. Our community clothes the kids, gives them basic hygiene products and very importantly, a mentor that cares for them.
What sort of positive and practical impact do you see in the lives of the kids who come along to the program?
The kids learn how to communicate at the brekky program by sitting down and having a chat with our volunteers (something they do not get at home). They get taught table manners and how to be polite by expressing gratitude. They get to interact with positive role models and in some brekky programs, the kids themselves run it and look after the younger kids. The kids get to see that making breakfast is pretty easy and that fruit is healthy.
I met a child last year that had never tasted a peach, she didn’t even know that it existed and that it grew on a tree, you should have seen her face when she took her first bite…just beautiful.
Could you share a specific story from someone whose life has changed for the better since becoming a part of the school breakfast program?
A young indigenous boy who had no support at home and was living in the most horrific poverty was continually mucking up at school. He was spending all of his time out of the classroom and his teachers were exasperated with his behaviour. He started to present at the breakfast program, first only once a week, and then more and more. He formed a bond with one of our breakfast volunteers. This young man was in yr 5, 11 years of age…..he had a reading age of an 8 year old and was embarrassed about his inability to keep up in class so acted out. Once he started coming to the program every day and our volunteer started to do some reading with him, he realised the community at the club cared for him and his reading age jumped to what it should have been in the space of 4 months. That young man then got into sports and has become a leader and a committed student.
Have there been any of the kid’s stories that have impacted your life personally?
All of them do. We regularly have children stay with us……currently we have a little girl who comes from a situation of abuse and neglect and family violence…mum is a crack addict, no furniture in the house, no food whatsoever, sexual abuse happening by drug dealers that come and go, scalp bleeding from lice infestation…
Another beautiful girl, who I call my second daughter, grew up with a Mum who is a long-term drug user, no father and having to look after her younger siblings for days at a time when she was as young as five. Her Mum would go to the supermarket and come home three days later. The little girl would have to clean her Mums blood up every time she broke a needle in her arm. She is now a straight A student and going to become a lawyer to help other children who live like she did, she actually got up and spoke for the first time about it at a breakfast we help for 500 people…very inspiring.
What is your biggest goal or dream for Kickstart for Kids?
My dream is that breakfast programs run in every school in Australia, that the program is run by communities that nurture and love the kids that need it, I would love to be able to take Kickstart for Kids to every community that needs us.
Thank you for all you do Ian, you are doing wonderful life-changing work.
Now that I know all of this, I have made it my responsibility is to tell these stories and spread the word that food insecurity is a reality in Australia. It might even be happening to families and children we know.
If you are wondering what you might be able to do to help, here is how:
Head to Sanitarium’s website to the social purpose section for all the details on the Good Start Breakfast Club and how you can get involved. Click here
If you would like to volunteer or even start a GSBC you can visit the Food Bank website for information on how to volunteer and donate. Click here.