Posted on 21/11/2016
The picture-perfect Christmas Day with loved ones gathered around the Christmas tree, opening presents and sharing home cooked meals, is in stark contrast to what thousands of disadvantaged South Australian children experience.
In October 2016, the Australian Council of Social Service released a report revealing that 731,300 children or 17.4% of all children in Australia are living in poverty.
On the frontline to improve the lives of disadvantaged children in South Australia is Ian Steel – founder of KickStart for Kids.
Since the KickStart for Kids breakfast program began in 2009, it’s been a long, yet highly rewarding journey for Ian and the 600 volunteers who now provide 50,000 breakfasts and 10,000 lunches to 300 primary schools across the state each week.
KickStart for Kids has grown to offer Camp KickStart – vacation care for disadvantaged children, and KickStart Christmas – a program in partnership with Statewide Super to gift Christmas presents to children who would otherwise not receive a present.
We chatted with Ian about the children who inspired him to start KickStart for Kids and the joy he has seen during the KickStart Christmas program.
What motivated you to start KickStart for Kids?
“I was mentoring primary school children in Adelaide’s northern suburbs when I noticed behavioural differences – they had a lower learning ability compared to my own children and the kids I coached at the local football club.
These kids were angry and anxious; they couldn’t make friends and had low concentration levels during school classes.
After speaking with social workers and teachers I learnt about their living conditions. These kids were in this situation through no fault of their own – it was the environment they were born into.
Some were living in cars, some had no shoes, and some were searching for food through bins, or resorting to eating dog food.
There were five-year-olds that didn’t know their primary colours and some had never read a book.
This rocked my world, especially as these kids lived just 10 kilometres out of Adelaide.
I knew I couldn’t help with the broad social issues. I couldn’t take them home and care for them, but by speaking with social workers and their teachers I learnt that their learning, behavioural and concentration issues were caused by the fact they were sent to school without eating breakfast.
Many of these children, and thousands each day in South Australia, were being sent to school without eating any food, or having any food during the day, which had a major impact on their learning ability, self-esteem and health.
In 2009, I began the KickStart for Kids breakfast program with the delivery of breakfasts to schools in the back of my builder's ute.
Immediately the teachers and I saw results – the kids were happier, able to make friends and had a much greater ability to learn.”
In most cases disadvantaged kids can experience intensified risk and disconnection at Christmas, but KickStart for Kids has broadened its program to make Christmas a time of joy. Tell us about the KickStart Christmas program…
“In late 2015 Statewide Super joined forces with KickStart to create the KickStart Christmas program and it has been running annually ever since.
We asked Statewide Super employers, members, staff and the greater South Australian public to donate gifts for children taking part in Camp KickStart vacation programs. These presents were given to the kids on Christmas Eve.
If these presents weren’t donated, these amazing children would otherwise not have the opportunity to open a present for Christmas and have the joy of that experience.
It’s really moving to see the children open their presents. I’ve seen hardened social workers cry when they see the kids’ reactions.”
What are some of the precious memories from the KickStart Christmas program?
“Three ladies, who were aged in their 70s, hand knitted clothes and blankets for dolls and prams they bought.
The care and effort these ladies showed was admirable. The young girls who received the dolls and prams had never owned anything like that before, and they absolutely loved it.”
Are there any age groups who are forgotten when presents are donated?
“For the KickStart Christmas program, the presents need to be wrapped and age and gender specific – so we ask for a tag to be placed on each gift with this information.
The presents are given to junior and primary school students, five to 14 years of age.
We do find that we receive a lot of presents for those aged 5–6, but fewer gifts are given for the older kids. So in 2018, we are specifically asking for gifts for kids aged 9-12 years.
There’s many gift options for this age group that can cost $10–$15 such as iTunes vouchers, movie tickets, Target or Kmart vouchers, books, board games or sports equipment.”
How do South Australians donate to the Christmas present drive?
Gift donations can be dropped into the Statewide Super Member Centre at 211 Victoria Square.