That was my initial reaction when Jodie Pyke, the wife of Adelaide Crows coach Don Pyke, spoke at a recent business breakfast about her work with the not-for-profit organisation KickStart for Kids which provides 50,000 breakfasts a week to school children in South Australia.
Surely she’s exaggerating, I thought, but the longer she talked, the more gasps from members of the audience and suddenly the bacon and eggs in front of us didn’t look quite so appetising.
Jodie explained that since coming here from Western Australia, where she had been involved in a Catholic education program supporting disadvantaged girls, she had been helping out at school holiday camps set up by Ian Steel from KickStart for Kids in three Adelaide suburban areas. The need for the camps arose after it became clear some children were not being fed and were subjected every day to drug addiction, mental illness, abuse and poverty.
She spoke of children with scabs on their bodies caused from neglect, lack of decent underwear and clothing, and a myriad of other health and wellbeing issues. For these children aged only five to 13, school is their only escape from the issues at home.
At the camps, there are ‘pop-up shops’ with donated shoes, clothing and personal items as well as haircuts and head lice treatment provided by local hairdressers.
Jodie told of volunteers dropping children home after the camp and not knowing whether there would be anyone there to look after them. She also referred to the staggering number of children in State care – more than 3200 according to official figures.
Of course we have all seen the horror stories in the media of neglected children and this newspaper has interviewed Centacare social workers and foster carers about the huge number of children at risk.
But hearing such a personal and graphic account of what Jodie has encountered in the short time since she has been here really hit home, and I thank her for that.
It’s just so hard to believe that in a civilised, first-world country like Australia, there are kids going without food.
But as I said, I shouldn’t be surprised. Our Catholic schools, Centacare Catholic Family Services, Catholic Charities and Vinnies are at the frontline of assisting a growing number of families and individuals in need. Our story on page 6 tells how Foodbank is concerned about the extent of the food insecurity issue, with more than 800 people taking advantage of free food and grocery items over a two-hour period at a pop-up service at Noarlunga. And Vinnies is expanding its Fred’s Van service in Elizabeth to cope with extra demand.
What makes me really mad is that we rarely hear our politicians talking about this issue – they are too busy arguing about codes of conduct for pollies and their staffers or about the latest citizenship debacle.
Lack of food for children in our own backyard is a problem for the whole community. However, we need effective leadership and good policy-making to find long-term solutions to break the cycle of poverty created by inter-generational unemployment, lack of education and substance abuse.
People like Jodie Pyke and the thousands of volunteers in the charity sector are doing amazing work and we should support them in every way possible. But we also must start demanding that our politicians use our taxes in places where they are really needed and develop strategies that address the growing inequalities in our community. And we need a media that is less focused on the latest sex scandal and more concerned with the welfare of all Australians, but especially the next generation.