Cape Town - More than 950 000 pupils have been back at school for two weeks now – but according to Food Bank SA, nearly one out of five go to school hungry.
Last year’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed a shocking number of children have nothing to eat before school.
Food Bank SA has partnered with the Kellogg Company and Parmalat to pledge breakfasts for 25 000 children across the country this year, amounting to five billion bowls of cereal.
Eighty of those servings were hungrily munched by pupils at Ysterplaat Primary School on Monday morning. The school relies on donations to feed its needier pupils, who often have no food to eat at home.
Matthew van Hansen, 10, loves eating breakfast at school. “We don’t have enough money to buy porridge and milk and food at home,” he said.
His father, Riaan van Hansen, works as a caretaker at the school, helping the teachers where he can and keeping the school safe.
“As a father it hurts, because I know he’s hungry. But as far as possible I feed him first, even if I go hungry myself,” he said.
“Sometimes we have no money. Even after I got paid, we only had maize meal for the month. Matthew would stay home from school, hungry and tired. Now he always wants to go to school.”
Van Hansen said many of the school’s pupils relied on whatever meals the school could provide.
“For a lot of kids this is the only meal they get. They leave the soup kitchen feeling happy and ready for the day.”
Principal Nataly Horn said although 80 of her 460 pupils were registered to receive food, many more were too proud to admit they were in need.
“Our biggest problem is that they don’t eat over weekends or during school holidays,” she said.
“You cannot teach a child who is hungry.”
With a reliable breakfast supply, Horn has experienced a tangible change in her young charges.
“It makes the whole class atmosphere different,” she said. “The children in front of you feel cared for, not neglected.”
Registered dietician Linda Drummond said breakfast provided the energy children need for sport, play and learning.
“Carb-based foods are ideal in the morning because they provide readily-available energy,” she said.