In a warehouse next to Adelaide Airport, four retired men are scurrying like ants.

It’s dawn and their laughs are leaving condensation trails through the ice-cold air.

They’re carefully stacking eggs and bread into a truck to be delivered to numerous schools around South Australia before the bell.

“We almost had scrambled eggs,” one jokes as they pass a fragile carton down their production line.

Volunteers rise early to help pack the school breakfast trucks.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

The retired walking buddies have been volunteering with not-for-profit KickStart for Kids for two years, and say they’re alarmed to see how much the demand for food has skyrocketed in that time.

“It sort of introduces you to another world,” said former Adelaide Crows football manager and volunteer John Reid.

“We get hungry and open the fridge — but [some of] these kids can’t.”

John Reid (left) said food insecurity was a widespread problem.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

Another volunteer, Johnny Beaumont, said he enjoyed seeing joy on children’s faces.

“I’m the pancake man,” he said.

“When the little tackers come along it’s great, and they say, ‘You’re late today’ — when you’re late they let you know.”

Husband-and-wife team Peter and Carolyn Meridew are also among the morning helpers, and drop off fresh fruit and dozens of sandwiches.

“There’s a lot of pressure on people, especially the single parents,” Ms Meridew said.

Peter and Carolyn Meridew help deliver meals across South Australia.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

“It’s not good to be in a country … where this is happening.

“It’s very important that people have a good standard of living.”

‘We tell families about it’

One group of children awaiting a drop-off is sitting in a classroom in a school in Adelaide’s northern suburbs.

As the eggs start sizzling and toast is slathered with vegemite, the children arrive early to have a free breakfast.

The free breakfast program has proved a hit with students.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

In fact, school staff say that, because of the program, more students are arriving early or on time.

Maria, who attends the primary school, said breakfast club meant a lot to her.

“When I come into the breakfast club all my worries go away because I’ve got people to talk to,” she said.

A student eats toast for breakfast before school.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

Another student said the breakfast club had helped them stay focused throughout the day.

“It’s hard to concentrate [when] your mind is always thinking about food,” the student said.

The school’s wellbeing leader, Christine Valley, said the number of students attending breakfast club each day had risen from about 60 or 70 to more than 100.

“Everyone right now is struggling with inflation, and families just don’t have the money to afford as much food as they did in the past,” she said.

“The more we tell families about it, the more children come in.”

Pastoral care worker Caroline Stevens runs the program three days a week.

“Some kids don’t get much at home, we know families are doing it tough,” she said.

One mother, Tarima, said she was grateful for the service.

“It does help families a lot,” she said.

‘There’s no food in the house’

The program’s founder, Ian Steel, said between 55,000 and 60,000 breakfasts were served in South Australia each week because of the initiative, and that demand had risen by about a third in the past year.

“More schools are opening breakfast clubs, more days,” Mr Steel said.

“Clearly there’s no food in the family house, so kids are coming to school [and] accessing the program.”

Ian Steel says demand has risen by about a third this year.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

He said KickStart went through about one tonne of Weetbix every three months, and about 1,000 loaves of bread, two tonnes of fruit and 1,800 litres of milk each week.

Because of the demand, the program has expanded to include lunches, with more sandwiches now required across more schools.

The volunteers make about 750 sandwiches a day.

They recently calculated how many they’d made and said that if they lined them up side by side, the trail would go from Adelaide to Sydney.

‘Helping tens of thousands’

Free meals aren’t offered in every school in Australia, but the practice is common in many European nations.

In 2021, the European Council adopted its Child Guarantee initiative, which ensures free access to at least one healthy meal per day for school children in poverty.

Volunteers making sandwiches for the school lunch program.(ABC News: Briana Fiore)

Mr Steel agrees with the principle of feeding at-risk children in Australia, and hopes more can be done to alleviate cost-of-living pressures on families.

He said it wasn’t just lower socio-economic areas needing support, with the problem now much more widespread.

About 360 South Australian schools have put their hands up for help this year.

Part of the reason he kickstarted KickStart was the fact that he himself had grown up on an empty stomach.

“At some stage in my life I suffered from food insecurity — my mum and my sisters and myself did it tough for a while,” he said.

“One thing led to another and here we are, after setting up one breakfast program, now helping tens of thousands of kids.”