Who will feed the hungry?

Children from Vrygrond collected food at Where Rainbows Meet before the lockdown.

Non-profit organisations (NPOs) who feed hungry families in some of the Cape Flats’ poorest communities say they have been battling to get permission to operate as “essential services” to feed the needy during the 21-day national lockdown.

Since President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered the lockdown to help flatten the curve of the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic which caused tens of thousands of deaths, leaders of NPOs have been frantically trying to get “permission” so that they can help the destitute, especially children in the informal settlements.

Ralph Bowers, community leader and founder of Guardians of the National Treasure, said a few NPOs from Lavender Hill and surrounds as well as Where Rainbows Meet in Vrygrond have been feeding more than a thousand children every day since the announcement of the lockdown on Monday March 23.

These community organisations have been supplied with ingredients by the Peninsula School Feeding Association and the Cape Flats Development Association.

Amelia Koeries, operations manager at Peninsula School Feeding Association (PSFA), said they have been in operation for 61 years and had been feeding 4 200 pupils at eight NPO community kitchens during the early closure of schools. There are pupils from 10 schools in the Lavender Hill, Retreat and Capricorn areas who are fed as part of this initiative.

Ms Koeries said: “We handed out cooking ingredients for our PSFA menu to Guardians of the National Treasure such as samp, beans, rice, breyani spice, pilchards and lentils, etc, that would last until Friday (April 3).”

She said they supply the ingredients and the NPOs make the food. “We are currently working on finding a way to use the local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide food parcels to distribute to the needy in communities.”

However, on Friday March 27 – Day 1 of the national lockdown – the NPOs were not sure what to do as they needed permission to freely roam the streets to feed those children in need.

Mr Bowers said: “Families have been knocking on our doors for food. They have been selling their possessions (for money to buy food) and I feel so sad to see a mommy and a baby coming to beg for food. If they don’t get fed it will be difficult for them to be able to function properly.”

The leaders say they have been pushing the Department of Social Development to tell them what is happening as there was no communication to tell them if there is a register with their names on “so we will be able to work in the community. We were completely left out of this national disaster.”

Mr Bowers said ulltimately the community leaders were the ones who would be helping the communities. “We have to throw stones at the authorities, hoping that something would come down. My concern is that there is a bad structure in the system and the children are the ones who are suffering. They are also vulnerable to catch this virus.”

Mymoena Scholtz, who helps feed the destitute in informal settlements such as Overcome Heights, said she too did not know what to do next. “I have left food for Overcome Heights for two more days, then I don’t know what will happen after this.”

Ms Scholtz said she was extremely concerned. “Poverty leads to many criminal activities and the feeding of our children are very essential and it is a shame that we had to close our NPO during this period. The authorities should have consulted us and put measures in place for us to continue operating, especially with the feeding,” said Ms Scholtz.

She said they were trying to find out why they were not consulted due to “us offering essential services in our area, but did not get any communication from the MEC (Social Development).”

Ms Scholtz said they have not “received any form of support due to the fear everyone has and that is a huge problem.”

Morieda Dien, founder of Dews of Quietness in Cafda Village, said it had been a struggle continuing the feeding scheme she runs from her premises in Tamboerien Street.

She said they were not issued a permit to have a feeding scheme but this hasn’t stopped her from feeding the most vulnerable during the lockdown. “I have been making food at home and handing it to Red Cross Disaster Relief and fortunately this is how we’ve been able to continue feeding those who need it the most,”she said.

Ms Dien said donations have been coming in but appealed to residents to donate money or ingredients to continue the feeding scheme. “We received money from Where Rainbows Meet as well as from another donor but we are asking anyone who is able to, please help us. We have managed to feed people every day of the lockdown and we’re making do with what we have so far, even though it is a big challenge. We are hoping to continue for the rest of the lockdown,” she said.

Jasmine Abrahams from Parkwood NPO, Jabulani, said she had also not received a permit to give food to children in the area but has been working closely with Red Cross Disaster Relief to make food and give to the homeless in the Cape Town CBD.

“It has been a huge struggle but we are doing whatever we can to help,”she said.

Ms Abrahams said organisations in Parkwood will come together later this week to make and hand over sandwiches to the needy. “The community leaders in Parkwood will come together as a collective to make and hand out something to eat to the residents of Parkwood, so we ask people to please help us. We are still in the process of getting a permit but it would be very helpful if this was made available to us for the duration of the lockdown,” said Ms Abrahams.

Mr Bowers said he had been speaking to Sharna Fernandez, MEC for Social Development, and showed Southern Mail her email response dated Friday March 27: “After receiving the regulations and a briefing by SAPS today we were informed that registered organisations can complete their own forms if they qualify as ‘essential services’. It is an area that national (government) has not addressed in the media briefings. We have since escalated, for them to issue a directive. I have attached the copy of Annexure C, form 1, for your attention.”

Mr Bowers said he printed out the form and filled it in but he did not go out and search for donations.

When Southern Mail sent Ms Fernandez an email, asking what their plans were for the NPOs her spokesperson, Joshua Chigome, responded: “As the provincial Department of Social Development, we are under the strict guidelines of the national government regarding actions during the 21-day lockdown period. Furthermore, it would be best if you contact the national Department of Social Development, to seek answers, clarity around the rules and regulations pertaining to essential workers.”

Southern Mail sent an email to Lumka Oliphant, the national Department of Social Development’s media spokesperson, posing the same questions, she, however, did not respond at the time of going to print.

If anyone wants to help these community organisations with donations, call Mr Bowers on 078 629 3258 or Ms Dien on 078 400 0801.