With three children in school and a fourth at home, Christchurch mother Charnae Pyke knows how school fees can lead to food budget cuts.
The 31-year-old single parent from Sockburn has struggled to buy uniforms and stationery in the past, in addition to his normal household expenses.
There just isn’t a lot of fat in the system.
Living this reality encouraged Pyke to create a Facebook group “Heading Back to School – Pass It Forward Christchurch”.
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The page lists free school uniforms, shoes and items, including stationery, and allows donors to sponsor a child.
Pyke says people have their own stories, journeys and reasons why they need help and the group offered a non-judgmental platform to offer support.
Now it has been overwhelmed with 1,800 members in three weeks and has already helped 400 families who cannot afford the cost of returning to school.
Pyke said the number of people seeking help showed there was a “tremendous need” for help in Christchurch, especially as the cost of living continued to rise.
In the 12 months to December 2021, consumer price index (CPI) inflation rose to 5.9%, from 4.9% in September, 3.3% in June and just 1, 5% in March.
With inflation at its highest in three decades, many like Pyke had nothing left in the kitty from week to week when they paid rent, electricity and food.
Finding an extra $150 to $200 per child to buy uniforms and stationery just wasn’t an equation many parents might encounter, she said. “That alone will mean missing a bill payment or less food.”
Pyke used the example of a parent who contacted her because she couldn’t afford a $22 pair of school shoes for her child.
She arranged for the shoes and a packet of stationery to be donated – leaving the relative in tears and overwhelmed by the kindness of others.
“So many people have been ready to step in and help.”
Spurred on by the level of need, Pyke was helping set up a charitable trust to help children participate in extracurricular activities like school camps.
Christchurch single parent Mischa* said Things tight finances meant she had to use a food bank to feed her family.
With two children in school, she struggles to pay school fees on top of her normal overhead costs.
Not extravagant, she says, it’s impossible to go ahead and save money for unexpected extra expenses, let alone uniforms or shoes.
To try to control tuition, Mischa pays $5 a week to each of her boys’ schools. However, this does not cover all costs.
Skipping the fresh fruit, vegetable and meat sections of the supermarket was all too often a reality, because it was too expensive.
Instead, Mischa was buying frozen vegetables and cheaper processed meat, which meant her boys weren’t getting as healthy a diet as she wanted.
“Diet also affects mental well-being. Processed meat is not good for their body.
She described Pyke’s page as a “wonderful initiative” and although she had to buy clothes for school this year, she donated old uniforms to the group in the spirit of giving back.
“It’s a tough time right now.”
*This is not his real name