Fuelling Townsville’s students

In December 2020, the Rotary Club of Townsville, Qld, hosted Demelza Gardem and Paula Pool, founders of local charity Fuel for Schools Ltd (FFSL).

Demelza, a local high school teacher, confronted club members with the staggering statistic that one in seven secondary school children in Townsville were coming to school with an empty stomach. Some had even missed out on dinner the previous night.

“This was a stark revelation for many club members,” said Membership Director Tim McKee OAM. “Poverty and other problems were causing kids in our own backyard to go without the most important meal of the day. The lack of nourishment was found to be affecting the learning ability and behaviour of not just the hungry kids, but others around them who were distracted by their behaviour.”

FFSL is addressing the problem by providing breakfast for disadvantaged young people across eight secondary schools in the city, where teachers had reported students arriving at school having not eaten breakfast.

The charity was originally launched with food donations from its founders, parents and students, but as it grew and more schools approached them for help, funding to buy cereals, bread and fruit became urgent.

It costs $60 per week per school to adequately stock breakfast for up to 100 students a day, five days a week, 10 weeks a term, three terms a year – a total of $1800 per school per year.

The Rotary Club of Townsville initially approved a $4200 donation to cover food costs for the first school term of 2021, before Tim discovered matching funds were still available from the Rotary Australia Compassionate Grants (RACG) Fund, thanks to the generous $1 million donation by Australian philanthropist Dick Smith.

“The club was happy to increase our donation to $6300, which was later matched by RACG to give them a total of $12,600,” Tim said. “This was the full amount needed by FFSL to provide breakfast to students at eight schools for the entire year.”

Through these donations, Demelza and Paula are now able to cut down on the time spent fundraising and can focus more on delivering food to the eight schools. Demelza has already received reports of improvements in the behaviour and learning of students assisted through the FFSL breakfast program.

“The partnership between Rotary and FFSL is a great example of how community service organisations can work together to deliver better and more widespread services to the needy in our communities,” said Tim.

“From a Rotary perspective, it also shows what a superb resource we have in RAWCS, which administers the RACG fund and allows clubs to register their projects to attract tax deductible donations from the public and other Rotary clubs alike.”