In this breakfast club, Weet-Bix saves the day
It was all over in 30 minutes. Bowls were washed, toasters put away and the lids of the honey jars screwed back on. But the feeling was hard to beat.
Just like every other weekday morning between 8-8:30am, at least 25 kids from the Alexandria Park School in Sydney’s Inner West eat breakfast around a communal table and head off to class with full bellies; a peaceful and warm start to the day.
Lucky kids would do all of this in the comfort of their own homes. But for an increasing number of others, mum and dad are just not earning enough to feed them the most important meal of the day.
The explanation is depressingly simple; cost of living pressure is killing Australian households; half our incomes are spent on basic needs; one in ten are skipping meals.
It’s a dark reality that contrasts with the warmth of Alexandria Park School’s Breakfast Club, nestled in a large, bright home economics room. And one you’d like to separate from the buzzing group of bright little faces, aged between five and 13, running in and out of the room, chatting to the volunteers while munching on pieces of toast.
This is a real inner city school. Sixty five per cent come from a language background other than English, and 25 per cent are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background. For many, home can be a complicated and chaotic place.
So here at the Red Cross Breakfast Club, soft and gentle is the order of the day. Children come and go as they please, signing their name on the register before helping themselves to a range of good food. Boxes of cereal and spreads line the table.
Fresh fruit is donated by a local grocer; part of a larger Breakfast Club initiative that includes local businesses in the program.
Mature-aged volunteer “Pookie”, has been a part of the program for the past ten years. She moves gently around the children, cutting up perfect slices of red apple and passing around pieces of buttered toast. “The most important thing is to get them to eat something,” she says.
Providing a peaceful and relaxed start to the day is just as important, adds Jan - another volunteer who says many of the kids here would be used to a more frantic morning routine at home.
Needless to say, demand for the program is increasing at a rapid pace.
Principal of Alexandria Park, Rick Turanksy says invitations to the breakfast club at his school are kept for the neediest students; a decision made by the teachers and communicated through word of mouth, rather than notes in school bags.
But according to Kate Marshall, media advisor for the Red Cross, more and more community schools need these services.
The only problem is that disadvantage doesn’t stop with breakfast.
As a recent ABS study outlined, Australian households have faced a 55 per cent increase in housing costs over six years, and there has been a 43 per cent increase in medical costs.
The Red Cross is also going beyond the Breakfast Club, offering regular workshops on nutrition and home cooking skills. Even the art of packing a healthy lunchbox is offered to parents on a regular basis.
But it would be wrong to overlook the significance of what these Breakfast Clubs are achieving in their own right. Because the real proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Or in this case, the honey-drenched bowl of Weet-Bix.
When the school bell rang at 8:30 yesterday morning; the last of the bleary-eyed 25 kids bounded out the door to their classrooms with full stomachs, and didn’t look back.
As Finn, aged 12, said between mouthfuls of cereal while finishing his homework; “I just concentrate better.”
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