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KickStarting the season to be grateful

When packed with parties, gifts, long lunches – and the right amount of downtime – the Christmas holidays can be our favourite part of the year.

But not everyone has a reason to look forward to them.

For the 37,500 South Australian kids who live below the poverty line, Christmas represents a time of intensified risk, disconnection and hunger instead of joy.

Non-profit organisation KickStart for Kids has been supporting these disadvantaged children through the school year since 2009, providing breakfast and mentoring programs in their schools.

“KickStart for Kids is all about looking after those kids who are really at risk of neglect, living in heartbreaking conditions and who don’t have access to food,” founder Ian Steel says.

“If a child doesn’t have the opportunity to have breakfast or have lunch, they can’t concentrate and they can’t learn.

“Giving them breakfast gives them the opportunity to sit down and learn like everybody else.

“Giving them a reading mentor enables them to catch up to the other kids.”

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Ian Steel helping serve up a great kick start to the day.

KickStart for Kids serves approximately 1.4 million breakfasts to hungry children in Adelaide each year.

Ian says the rapport that develops between the volunteers and children is just as valuable as this food assistance – and without school staff and KickStart for Kids checking up on them, he’s concerned the kids will “slip through the cracks”.

“We can’t get to disadvantaged at-risk children during the school holidays,” Ian says.

“Vacation care and OSCHC programs cost money and these kids don’t have the means to go to them.

“They don’t feel safe at home – many of them are at risk at home of abuse and neglect.

“The only place that these kids actually feel safe is at school.”

These Christmas holidays Ian and his volunteers will run the inaugural Camp KickStart, a form of extended daycare based in the southern suburbs.

The camp will enable the volunteers to maintain contact with the children over the six weeks they are away from school, keep the them busy with fun activities and provide the food and care they aren’t likely to receive at home.

“We’ll be going to the kids’ houses and picking them up on a bus and entertaining them with workshops, trips to the beach and feeding them breakfast and lunch,” Ian says.

“They don’t get to celebrate Christmas so with Camp KickStart they have the opportunity to have Santa Claus and to have a Christmas lunch.

“They’ll have a good time in the holidays and look forward to the holidays instead of just hanging round on the street.”

Being confronted with the children’s often heart-rending circumstances – and seeing how grateful they are for what can be a simple breakfast of Vegemite on toast – has made the KickStart for Kids volunteers deeply grateful for what they have in their own lives.

They have teamed up with South Australian superannuation fund Statewide Super to create the KickStart Gratitude campaign.

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Ian with Holly Newell from Statewide Super.

Together, they’re encouraging the community to express gratitude for the positive aspects of their lives through action – in this case by donating Christmas gifts for Kickstart for Kids to distribute among the children attending Camp KickStart.

“Father Christmas will start handing out presents to all these amazing kids who would never, ever have the opportunity to get two or three presents for Christmas,” Ian says.

“They will be over the moon and they deserve it.”

It’s not just the children who’ll reap the benefits of this action.

Performing an act of gratitude has been scientifically proven to boost mental and physical wellbeing, with specific benefits including improved sleep, high self-esteem, reduced aggression and depression, and longevity linked to gratitude.

“There’s evidence to suggest that if you have gratitude for something it helps you shift your focus from negative to positive – so it really helps you to move out of the negative emotional space into a positive one,” Director of South Australian Medical and Health Research Institute’s Wellbeing and Resilience Centre, Gabrielle Kelly, says.

“And there are very clear evidentiary links between positive emotions and wellbeing.

“It can sound as though it’s so obvious that it’s almost meaningless.

“But in fact evidence suggests that if you create a gratitude practice for yourself over three weeks, you will measurably increase your wellbeing.

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“The very act of expressing gratitude builds your capacity for gratitude in your own life, which builds your wellbeing – a sort of positive spiral.”

 While the benefits of a gratitude practice are diverse, Gabrielle stresses that the practice itself doesn’t have to be complicated.

 “It’s not this new-age, magical thinking,” she says.

“It’s actually using your own insight to examine your life – to notice and pay respect to what is good in your life.

“Life has both good and bad moments so everyone’s day is not filled only with amazing things that are easy to be grateful for.

“Once you start looking though, you’ll find that there’s a lot more to be grateful for than you might have thought and that will serve your wellbeing and the deeper wellbeing of people around you.” 

With this logic, those who get on board with the KickStart Gratitude campaign can experience positive results themselves.

“We believe that by inviting our members to practice gratitude we can contribute to their long term wellbeing while also contributing to a better future for people in need,” Statewide’s Senior People and Culture Advisor, Holly Newell, says.

“On a global scale most of us experience abundance yet 12.5 per cent of the South Australian population live below the poverty line and many of those are young children.

“The focus is on the fact that if you are working, if you have a roof over your head, then on balance you’re a fortunate person.”

Secondary school students from St Peter’s Collegiate Girls’ School in Adelaide are also among those putting their gratitude into action by supporting KickStart for Kids’ work.

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As part of their school’s House Charity Week this December, girls in Kennion House held a jam and Vegemite for the breakfast program.

The 90kg of spreads they collected has alleviated some of the financial pressure for KickStart for Kids, which uses around 700 jars a month.

In addition a group of the students have been serving in the breakfast program at one of the schools KickStart for Kids assists – an opportunity Year 10 student Mikaela Georgiadi says made her more deeply aware of all she has to be grateful for.

“I think it was great going to the school because not only were we able to help them make the food and serve it, we were able to interact with the children,” Mikaela says.

“It helped us understand more.

“We’re realising how lucky we are so that we can cherish what we have in our lives.”

Anyone wishing to donate a gift for a child to receive at Camp Kickstart can drop it off at the Statewide Member Centre (211 Victoria Square) or at their local National Pharmacies store.

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