Kids go to school hungry

Katie Hampson
Food fears: Children are arriving at school without food. Picture: The West Australian

Children are regularly attending suburban primary schools hungry and without lunch money or food in their schoolbags, according to the State's biggest food relief charity.

Despite the boom being over, WA is still a wealthy State, yet teachers report observing the deprivation daily. Some even dip into their own pockets to buy food for students because they cannot be certain dinner will be on the table when the youngsters return home. The students are mostly aged between five and 11 and risk falling behind at school because of hunger, Rex Milligan, Foodbank WA's manager of the Healthy Food For All programs, said.

Mr Milligan said a free school breakfast program had existed since 2001, starting with just 11 schools and swelling to 432 last year.

The number of schools requesting to be part of the charity's Fruit Van run is also rising, with the bulk of that food given to children who have no lunch or recess.

"Sometimes the school breakfast is the child's only meal of the day," Mr Milligan said.

"Sometimes families just run out of money and there is no food in the fridge or pantry."

Apart from schools in regional areas, 178 metropolitan schools used the free breakfast program, including in Nollamara, Westminster, Girrawheen and Koondoola.

A primary school in Mosman Park and a school in Como had also taken part.Seventy-seven per cent of schools using the breakfast program also asked for emergency meals and 71 per cent of those were used for lunches, 2013 figures provided by Foodbank WA showed.

Mr Milligan said the focus on Perth being awash with money was masking the scale of the problem. He said cost-of-living pressures were a key reason for primary school children not being fed adequately.

"A lot of the people we help through Foodbank are actually working," he said. "It is actually harder for them to cope in WA than in another State or country."

Mr Milligan said fewer than 40 per cent of children who took part in the school breakfast program were Aboriginal, about 20 per cent were refugees or migrants and the rest were Caucasian, indicating hunger affected a wide section of the community.