Why gangs are making sandwiches in New Zealand

The Tribal Huks gang have been making approximately 500 sandwiches daily and dropping them off at New Zealand schools. American gangs have responded similarly in the past. 

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
A volunteer worker packs sandwiches inside the Mary Brennan Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN) soup kitchen in Hempstead, New York. In New Zealand, a gang is doing similar work to help feed poor school children.

In what some may view as an inadvertent act of parent shaming, gang members in New Zealand have stepped in to make sandwiches for hungry school children whose parents have failed to provide them with lunch.

Yet, those who work with children in American schools say that both “food insecurity” and the help of gangs in caring for needy kids are not unheard of in the US. 

Over the past two years the Tribal Huks gang have been making approximately 500 sandwiches every day and dropping them off to Waikato schools before the lunch bell, according to New Zealand news outlet Stuff.com

According to published reports, Tribal Huk gang is made up of young men who grew up as hungry kids and turned into angry men. Jamie Pink, Tribal Huk leader told Stuff, ''All the violence aside, this is more important.''

Now, the community has offered resources to the gang members, pledging to help grow the school-lunch project as well as gardens of vegetables and provide honey, avocados, margarine, eggs, books, and money.

Mr. Pink was fed by gang members when he was young and remembers them as generous people who looked after him when his mother had nothing.

While Pink agrees with those who say it should not be the school’s responsibility to feed kids, he said, ''but if you've got crappy parents, you're bloody [expletive] aren't ya?”

Warren Stewart, of Norfolk, Va., finds the New Zealand gang response credible – and familiar.

A former school superintendent, now a Norfolk School Board Member, Mr. Stewart says in a phone interview that he was raised in poverty and became a member of the “Aces” gang during the 1950s.

Despite bitter rivalry, he and opposing gang members “The Snakes” often did something similar to what the Tribal Huks are doing today in New Zealand by bringing food to impoverished children in their respective areas.

“Giving in this way by people considered to be outlaws harkens back to Robin Hood. Giving to needy children crosses all barriers,” Stewart explains. “Rich, poor, good or perceived as evil, everyone gets a lift from giving that makes them feel good. Give enough and it’s almost selfish because you feel so good about what you’re doing for others.”

Bill Young, chief operating officer for For Kids in Norfolk, Va., which now provides for kids in the area where Stewart was once an impoverished child turned gang member, says “food insecurity” plays a huge role in the lives of kids all over the United States today.

 “It’s been widely reported that here in America something in the realm of one in seven children suffers from what we call ‘food insecurity’ – not knowing where your next meal is coming from,” Mr. Young says. “When you have that level of need you start to see that kind of unusual community effort [as that of the gang] start to take place in a community.”

Young adds, “While here in America we are seeing a proliferation of reduced breakfast, lunch and even dinner programs available in schools, we still need all the help we can get in feeding and often housing these children who are stepping off the school bus at the end of the day with no permanent shelter to go to.”

According to USA Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in April 2014 that nearly 16 million children in the United States live in households struggling to find enough food to eat. That same report tells us that while 15.9 percent of Americans lived in food-insecure households, 21.6 percent of children had uncertain access to food.

“I am not amazed that people who are of the background of the Tribal Hucks are doing this kind of giving,” Stewart concludes. “What often surprises me is that everyone else in a community doesn’t realize how much kids need a good meal until someone who’s a criminal steps in to do the feeding.”

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