What Happens to School Lunches During Lockdown?

Like almost everything else in society, in 2020 and 2021, the Ka Ora, Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches programme was interrupted by lockdowns and restrictions as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country.

At Alert Level Four, schools were closed and the programme was not operating. We asked Sean Teddy, Hautū (leader) of Operations and Integration/Te Pae Aronui at the Ministry of Education what happened to all those school lunches during COVID lockdowns, what it meant for the schools and kura and what it meant for suppliers.

“In order to enable the programme’s supplier network to remain viable and ready to go when lunches could again be delivered, we paid for lunches that were ordered by schools and kura and prepared for distribution, as well as fixed costs associated with the programme (such as rent, delivery vehicle leases, fixed plant and equipment costs),” explained Teddy.

“This included the cost of wages associated with the programme (if needed), noting that suppliers were encouraged to apply for funding through the wage subsidy in the first instance.”

Tedddy added that the lunches that were already prepared but not able to be delivered were redistributed by suppliers, for example to organisations like the New Zealand Food Network and food banks.

The programme also responded in the following ways during New Zealand’s 2021 lockdown period:

  • On 27 August, Cabinet approved $3.2 million of Ka Ora, Ka Ako underspent funding to be transferred to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to further fund the New Zealand Food Network and community grants to reduce food insecurity during lockdown.
  • On 2 September, grants totalling $250,000 were made to KidsCan ($150,000) and Eat My Lunch ($100,000) to support their efforts in Auckland to reduce food insecurity in the community and to support whānau isolating as a result of the pandemic.
  • On 9 September, Cabinet agreed to a further $7 million transfer of Ka Ora, Ka Ako funding to MSD to fund their work to reduce food insecurity while Auckland remained at Alert Level 4. 
  • $2.5 million was also being transferred within the Ministry to contribute to a package of support initiatives to re-engage ākonga in education.

“With the recent Omicron outbreak, the programme’s approach is different because under each level of the traffic light system schools and kura remain open,” continued Teddy.

“The overriding principle is that, wherever possible, the supply of lunches should continue. We are working closely with schools, kura and suppliers to help them get their Business Continuity Plans in place outlining how they will respond to various situations that may arise as a result of the outbreak.

“It will be up to each supplier, school and kura to choose how they decide to respond to a COVID situation at their school, but our team will continue to support them (as needed) throughout this time.”