All over Australia, in the very early hours of the morning while most of us are still in bed, there are an army of dedicated, caring organisations full of volunteers who are tackling a shameful truth here in the 'lucky country'. That truth is that one in five Australian kids will be experiencing food insecurity and many will be going to school hungry.
We're not talking about the people that live on the street, think about the ones who live in your street. With a high cost of living meaning so many Aussie families are living week to week, a costly childcare bill, or an expensive car crisis could be enough to stop your neighbours … or even you, putting food on the table at any given time.
Jules Sebastian recently visited one of the schools supported by Sanitarium's Good Start Breakfast Club program, run by not-for-profit partner The Australian Red Cross which alongside Foodbank and Kickstart for Kids operates more than 2,200 of the clubs every year around the country.
"People need to be aware that these organisations are doing this," say Jules. "If you think someone in your community can benefit from this, talk to your school about starting a breakfast club, if you already have one you can always volunteer."
It’s about more than food
Jules, who has two sons, Hudson (6) and Archer (4) with husband Guy Sebastian was beyond heartbroken to hear the statistics around 'food insecurity' amongst Australia's children.
Never imagining the gut-wrenching decisions parents were having to make every single week between paying a bill or feeding their children.
"I can see so clearly now, how a crisis can hit any family at any time – job losses, illness, injury, all against the backdrop of rising costs of living like rent and electricity, and low levels of welfare support. In winter it can get even harder for families having to make the terrible choice between eating or heating," said Jules.
After visiting a school and helping out in the Sanitarium's Good Start Breakfast Club she knows now that these clubs are about more than the food.
"The food is so important, obviously," says Jules. "But something else I noticed that I wasn't expecting was the fact that these clubs create a safe space for the kids to just be themselves.
"If I were a parent of these kids I would so relieved that even though things might not be great in other areas, at least the kids were coming into this warm, safe environment, where everyone knows their name and how they like their toast cut. It's beautiful."
Foodbank CEO, Brianna Casey, says food insecurity is not well understood in Australia, "Food insecurity is different to hunger, we've all felt hungry at some point. For those facing food insecurity, the unfortunate reality is that they do not have regular access to the ingredients required to put a nutritious meal on the table for themselves and their family."
Research from Foodbank has shown, 87 percent of parents living in food insecure households have skipped a meal so their children can eat, and the emotions of shame and embarrassment are significant with 41 percent of parents who live in food insecure households feel other parents assume the reason their child is not being fed is due to neglect.
Jules knows that this is simply not true, and that's why she's happy to spread the word that these services exist, encouraging all Australians to get involved whether they need the assistance themselves or not.
Breaking the embarrassment associated with the challenges facing many families, and bringing awareness to the issue and how fast it is growing in a nation known as the lucky country is what Jules aims to accomplish.
"It almost feels like 'not enough' to simply spread awareness that these clubs exist," says Jules. "But that's exactly what is needed. There might be someone you know who needs this help, and now you can start the conversations to make it happen."
"Of children experiencing food insecurity, breakfast is the meal they are most likely to not get, but we know developmentally it's the meal they need most. Children who continually don't get breakfast, particularly a nutritious one of whole-grains, milk and some fruit, miss out on many key nutrients they need every day to be healthy. This includes carbohydrates, protein, fibre, vitamins such as B vitamins and minerals including iron and zinc. These nutrients are essential for physical growth, intellectual development and mental performance," said Trish Guy, Nutritionist, Sanitarium.
"When you see these negative effects of not having enough nutritious food to eat, and then imagine trying to put a child in a classroom to learn, you can immediately understand how these kids can fall behind at school - dramatically changing their future opportunities," continued Guy.
Jules knows that's true for her own boys, and even herself.
"If I'm hungry I know I'm not functioning well. I'm tired and irritable," she says.
"I can't imagine a hungry child in class being told to concentrate and behave when their little stomach is empty. It would be impossible."
Jules can't stress how valuable these breakfast clubs are.
"The kids were happy and comfortable, they could just be themselves with no judgement. It's actually just a club to come and have fun and see their friends and interact and leave with a full belly to set them up for a day of learning," say Jules. So what can every day Australians do?For Jules, the answer is simple: "Firstly, let's break down the stigma that might be attached to needing a helping hand through a tough time. And secondly, let's bring more awareness to how big this issue is – and how fast it is growing here in this lucky country of ours because that's when more help will arrive. And the one way we can do that, is to talk about this issue – share these stories."