The nationwide lockdown regulations that were implemented more than 100 days ago have had a devastating impact on our whole region, with the unemployment rate continuing to rise. Realising that food insecurity was one of the most dire consequences faced by the poorest and most vulnerable members of our communities, a project called the Overstrand Community Food Kitchens was created by the Overstrand Municipality, in collaboration with the Speaker of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, Masizole Mnqasela.
“In the Overstrand area alone, there are 50 food kitchens which feed about 13 000 people a meal every day – and this number does not include the informal soup kitchens or those volunteers who are handing out food parcels,” says Mnqasela. “There are no politics involved. Anyone who needs food can go to the kitchens. The portion they receive is enough for two meals, so they can split it to last during the day.”
The food kitchens rely on constant donations and funding, and several NGOs, organisations and individuals across the Overberg have been working tirelessly to make sure that people don’t go hungry. Others, such as Relief.Life collect food items to make up hundreds of food parcels that are distributed weekly to needy families in collaboration with Disaster Management.
Relief.Life is based at Shofar Church in Hermanus, where the items are sanitised and packed by a small team from the church led by Pastor Andries van der Merwe. Last week, they received a generous donation of 450 food parcels from Land Rover South Africa and the Minnie Dlamini Foundation – all thanks to Nelson Mandela’s former private secretary, Zelda le Grange (now a resident in the Overstrand). Another 550 parcels were also given to Marli Hoffman of the Red Cross in Greyton for the families in need there.
After speaking to a friend in Greyton, Zelda says she realised that relief from government was not reaching small towns, although the need for assistance in these areas was clear. Via a Facebook post, she asked for recommendations on reliable organisations to support, and after a few phone calls, decided on Relief.Life in Hermanus and Red Cross in the Greyton/Genadendal area.
Zelda called Andries and Marli to offer her assistance and also contacted several of the local Ward Councillors who are part of the Overstrand Community Food Kitchens project. She realised that donations would also need to come from outside the Overstrand, as many locals were already struggling to support their own families and could no longer make donations.
She contacted a friend at Land Rover South Africa, who quickly organised 1 000 food parcels with the help of the Minnie Dlamini Foundation, Jaguar and Red Cross to be dropped off in Greyton and split between families in Hermanus and Greyton. Zelda, Mnqasela and the relevant Ward Councillors met with Andries at Shofar Church to arrange for the delivery of the parcels, which had been fetched from Greyton by Hermanus Disaster Management.
PR Councillor Lindile Ntsabo, who oversees all nine food kitchens in Zwelihle, says the project has been a challenge but is going well: “Out of all the food kitchens in Zwelihle, only one has had to close due to Covid-19 infection. We closed the kitchen and opened a new one at a different premises while the other was being disinfected. We also replaced the volunteers with a whole new team. All of the kitchens are disinfected every single day and we have team members who ensure that people practise social distancing while they queue for food.”
In addition to these precautionary measures, they have also decided that those who are not wearing a mask will not receive food. “At the food kitchens you must have a mask on and sanitise your hands upon entering,” says Ntsabo. “We understand that not everyone can afford a mask, which is why we have been supplying masks to these people thanks to a donation from the DA. We have bought material and now have local gogos making masks to be handed out at the kitchens.”
Cllr Ntsabo and his team also plan to play a recorded message through the streets of Zwelihle three times a week to remind residents to practise good hygiene and social distancing, and to keep them updated on the number of cases in their community. In Mount Pleasant, Cllr Ronald Nutt and his team have also been focusing on creating awareness of the risks of infection by handing out pamphlets to residents. Both Councillors emphasise their gratitude to the community for their support of the Overstrand Community Food Kitchens project.
Soraya Pieterse, who started feeding hungry children in Mount Pleasant more than a year ago, says there are now many more. “I used to give about 150 children lunch after school but during the lockdown that number doubled,” she says. At her Love, Hope, Faith & Happiness Soup Kitchen, which she runs from her modest home in Mount Pleasant, Soraya starts cooking every morning at 04:00 and provides both breakfast and lunch, seven days a week. She also makes up food parcels for families in need.
“I am very grateful for the assistance of the Overstrand Community Food Kitchens project, which supplies me with food items once a week that provide meals for at least three days. For the rest I rely on the kind donations of individual volunteers, organisations, churches and businesses who have come to my assistance time and time again. Among them are Jozua Rossouw, Maret van Dyk, Hermanus Round Table, Van Blommestein Slaghuis and AGS Kerk, Sandbaai. There is no way I can ever thank them enough.”
Soraya has also been making sure that the children understand the importance of wearing masks, washing their hands and staying 1.5 metres apart. “That is not easy to do!” she laughs.