• Lyndon Galea is the founder of Eat Up, who makes and delivers sandwiches to schools for kids going hungry. (Eat Up)
Eat Up is a Shepparton local’s simple but genius idea to alleviate playground hunger across Australia, by providing cheese and Vegemite sandwiches.
By
Lucy Rennick

16 Oct 2018 - 4:34 PM  UPDATED 17 Oct 2018 - 12:49 PM

If you had asked Shepparton local Lyndon Galea in 2013 where he thought he’d be in five years, his answer may not have involved tackling primary school playground hunger on a national scale.

And yet, here he is – the founder of Eat Up, a charity dedicated to making and delivering sandwiches to schools for kids going hungry on a regular basis. At the beginning of 2017, Eat Up was connected with 55 schools around Victoria; now, they’re helping almost 300, and are pushing into NSW and Queensland at the time of writing. In short, Eat Up is working – really well.  

It began in 2013 with a simple premise: no child should have to go to school hungry.

“I was reading an article in the Shepparton local paper about two schools where kids were regularly being sent to school without anything from home. They were just going without at recess and lunchtime,” Galea tells SBS. “I was totally taken aback by that. Shepparton does have a reputation for disadvantage, but kids missing out on food seemed like a level of severity that I was unaware of.”  

Some people read an article like that, feel bad momentarily and then get on with their day; others, like Galea, ransack their mum’s fridge and make 100 cheese and vegemite sandwiches for each of the schools mentioned in the story.  

It began in 2013 with a simple premise: no child should have to go to school hungry.

“I was 25 at the time,” Galea explains. “I didn’t have any money or grand experience, but I wanted to try and help. Even something as simple as sandwiches would mean these kids wouldn’t miss out.”

Hunger in the playground is far more prevalent in 2018 than it should be. In an April report, not-for-profit organisation Food Bank revealed more than 1 in 5 Australian kids (around 22%) have experienced food insecurity at some point in the last year. At least once a week, 15% of school kids are dropped off in the morning without packed lunch or lunch money.

“When these kids are hungry they can’t concentrate, and when they can’t concentrate they can’t learn” says Galea. “Plus, not having lunch in the playground isn’t a nice way for these kids to stand out at such a formative age. Perhaps if these kids can be able to engage fully in the classroom, they can go on to roles and jobs they’re most passionate about. Perhaps the cycle of disadvantage ends with them.”

Eat Up relies predominantly on a vast network of volunteers – it’s how Galea’s managed to expand so rapidly in such a short time. The core Eat Up team takes donations from brands like Wonder White Bread, Carmen’s, and SPC to volunteer groups (corporate groups, private schools and rotary clubs, mainly) who make the lunches. Eat Up delivers the lunches to participating schools every three weeks, where they’re frozen ahead of time. Teachers work internally to distribute the lunches to kids in need, avoiding any potential embarrassment.

“We work with upwards of 150 volunteers each school week,” Galea says. “We’re making and delivering 70,000 lunches each school term. It’s all scaled, though – the three-week cycle means we can reach all the schools we need to.” 

Naturally, Eat Up is most effective in areas or suburbs where lines of disadvantage intersect.

“Kids in recently-arrived migrant families are receiving those sandwiches, as well as kids whose families are just finding their feet, looking for a bit of extra support,” Galea says. “Sometimes we’re giving a vegemite and cheese sandwich to a kid who’s never seen or tried vegemite in their lives.”

As the business continues to grow, the Eat Up team is balancing cultural and dietary sensitivities with pragmatism and sustainability – they’ll always ask schools whether things like halal cheese are preferable, and act accordingly.

“We try our best to accommodate all different types of eaters, and we’re conscious of how different foods can affect our ability to help,” Galea says. “We also have to maintain a pragmatic approach to ensure we can continue helping on a broader scale.”

Eat Up proves there’s no such thing as a small idea – even a little vegemite sandwich can make a huge difference to a hungry child. 

 

Want to help out? Donate to or volunteer to make sandwiches for Eat Up today, and follow Eat Up’s journey on Facebook and Instagram.

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