School tuckshop volunteer numbers plunge as cost-of-living crisis bites

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
- Advertisement -

New data from Volunteering Queensland shows that volunteering numbers across the state continue to plummet… and school tuckshops are not immune. 

The State of Volunteering in Queensland 2024 Report released yesterday reveals an 11.4 per cent decline in volunteer participation, with lack of time and associated costs listed as the top two barriers for volunteering more. 

Volunteer retention was the number one challenge for volunteer managers, and according to the Queensland Association of School Tuckshops CEO Deanne Wooden, this finding is reflected in school tuckshops throughout Queensland. 

“This report has confirmed what we already know and what our members have been telling us for the last few years; that recruiting and retaining volunteers in today’s climate is almost impossible,” Ms Wooden says. 

- Advertisement -

“With the cost of living rising, unemployment rates low, and parents time-poor, the pool of volunteers for school tuckshops is drying up.  

“It’s sink or swim, and unfortunately many tuckshop businesses are sinking. Without volunteers, some school tuckshops will cease to exist.” 

Tuckshops needed to improve health outcomes

The Queensland Association of School Tuckshops (QAST) works closely with school tuckshops to build capacity in tuckshops and improve health outcomes for children. Their vision is healthy tuckshops, healthy schools, healthy children and they exist to support Queensland tuckshops to serve sustainable, affordable, nutritious and safe food choices.

Through member services and resources, training like their Volunteer Management Course, and programs like their Creating Connections through Cooking program, they are able to help tuckshops develop sound volunteer management practices that encourage participation and recognition. 

“Initiatives like our Connections through Cooking program have been crucial in aiding the placement of volunteers in school tuckshops. The program has been warmly welcomed in the community since its inception in 2019, but due to lack of government funding, QAST won’t be able to continue to run it moving forward.”

- Advertisement -

Supply costs are blowing budgets

Ms Wooden says school tuckshops across the state are already struggling with increased cost of supplies, adding that “employing paid staff adds an extra financial burden, and one which they will find difficult to absorb”.

“Add to that an ongoing expectation that tuckshop prices remain low, and of course they want to keep meals affordable, but this is squeezing budgets even further,” she told EducationDaily.

“We are already seeing some tuckshops close or being outsourced to external companies that run them at a profit. This means increasing prices for families, and unfortunately, the quality of the food can also suffer.”

Healthy meals fuel young bodies and minds

As the focus on enabling children to have greater access to genuinely nutritious food during school hours becomes even more important, Ms Wooden says creating healthy meals in tuckshops can sometimes require “more hands on deck”.

” A lack of volunteers may mean tuckshops need to fall back on the less healthy heat and serve menu items like savoury pastries, oven baked crumbed products, and ready-made meals. These products lack nutrition and can be higher in salt, saturated fat, and sugar,” she says.

- Advertisement -

The first rule of volunteer management, says Ms Wooden, is to properly acknowledge the volunteers they already have.

“When recruiting these days, schools need to look beyond the parent community for more help, among grandparents and community organisations looking for ways to contribute. If they are unable to recruit more volunteers, upskilling in areas like managing budgets and menu design will help them balance a healthy menu with profitability,” she told EducationDaily, adding that QAST membership is a great way to find the information tuckshops need to run a viable, healthy food business in today’s challenging conditions.

The alternative – seeing school tuckshops close – is something she believes could have negative long-term consequences.

“This is a big loss not only to school tuckshops, but to the CALD community that it has benefited over the last five years.”

Share This Article
Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]