Closing the gap, one meal at a time

On National Close the Gap Day, Vanessa Lahey meets a school that is embracing its commitment to look after the whole student.

Image: Meal planners: Kalvin Buchanan-Close, Maria Lovell, Mawaa Greenup and Cassandra Stadhams help prepared Mob Meal packs for the school.

Bowraville Central School is taking steps to close the gap for its students one meal at a time.

There’s a sign over the school’s canteen that reads “Bi Yambala”, which is Gumbaynggirr for ‘Let’s Eat!’. Four days each school week, students from kindergarten to year 12 are welcome to choose a hot meal, fresh sandwich, piece of fruit, and healthy drink at no cost.

Bowraville Central School Principal David Taylor said the school-funded initiative was also supported by donations from a local food hub, bread from the town’s own bakery and fruit from Woolworths.

“We’ve created a space where children can come together and eat wholesome food. We publish the week’s menu in advance so that students who don’t like the sound of what’s on offer can bring in their own lunch so they don’t go hungry," Mr Taylor said.

The school, on Guymbaynggirr Land, has a school farm and a strong Hospitality program. The canteen food uses its own produce where possible, like eggs from the school’s chickens, fruit and vegetables from the school farm and herbs from the wall garden.

This enables the students to see where their food comes from. All the packaging handed to the students is biodegradable to teach them about recycling too.

In addition, Bowraville Central School runs a program called ‘Mob Meals’. One day a week families and carers of Aboriginal students are provided a take-home box containing ingredients and a recipe for a main meal at dinner time. A quirky feature of the Mob Meal is that each student is encouraged to take a photo or video of them helping to prepare the meal with their family or caregiver.

“Our hospitality students prepare and pack fresh ingredients into boxes under the supervision of teachers with recipes included. The freshly packed boxes are made ready for collection and families are notified via phone call that a delivery is being dropped at their front gate,” Mr Taylor said.

“The same hospitality students also prepare healthy lunches. Our priority is to make food readily available to students."

The Bowraville community has been heavily impacted by bushfires and floods in recent years. The school is the hub of the community and this program is one way of healing a town that has suffered significant loss.

“The program has a strong focus on our Aboriginal student’s social and emotional well-being by addressing their immediate needs to encourage school attendance, ensure there is access to healthy meals at school, and maintain a connection to culture,” Mr Taylor said.

Close the Gap is a national agreement designed to overcome inequality experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in education, employment, health and wellbeing, justice, safety, housing, land and waters, and languages.

National Close the Gap Day

Join NSW Department of Education Secretary Georgina Harrisson today at 10am as she speaks to four young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about what closing the gap means to them and how they believe the department can make the system work better for First Nations students.

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