Call to alms: they asked the needy to feed the hungry, and this happened
When NGOs asked desperate locals to help those in greater need, they pulled together – and then some
On day 34 of lockdown a group of NGOs in Eldorado Park, south of Johannesburg, reached the end of their tether. As the fight for food parcels continued across the country, they dared to ask the very people in dire need to donate towards feeding the needy.
The adage “for us by us” was the premise. Anti-drug activists Dereleen James and Cheryl Pillay challenged residents to help raise the money they needed for food parcels.
“Once lockdown came into effect everyone was asking what was going to happen. We couldn’t sit and wait for help so we decided to be proactive; that’s when we decided something had to be done,” Pillay said.
James, founder of The Yellow Ribbon Foundation, posted a message on social media: “Eldorado Park, this is our community and it’s built on pride, resilience and determination. Now let’s pull together and start believing that. Imagine if we all united there would be no hungry families during this trying time of Covid-19.”
In less than 24 hours residents had donated R50,000, and by the next day the total stood at R77,000. Through this they have been able to feed 3,200 families in the community.
We couldn’t sit and wait for help so we decided to be proactive.Anti-drug activist Cheryl Pillay
Pillay heads up the Eldorado Park Covid-19 Disaster Forum, a collective of NGOs, with about 100 volunteers made up of community leaders, ward councillors, the neighbourhood watch and members of the community policing forum.
“We came together to see how we could have a combined intervention because this doesn’t just take one NGO. That’s how we have been able to get together over 3,000 food parcels,” Pillay said.
A standard food parcel costs R250 and is made up of maize meal, sugar, tea bags, tinned fish, baked beans, rice, soap, oil and bread.
Based at the Don Mateman Hall in Eldorado Park, different stations are set up in the hall for the various functional teams. Each team is responsible for a specific task. One team captures the data from beneficiaries, and another documents the amount of food donations coming in. Everyone packs food parcels. Those in need of food parcels send a text message to the team with their name and address. Two or three volunteers accompanied by members of the community policing forum visit these homes to assess the extent of their need.
“On Saturday we did a delivery and the nine-year-old made a poster saying ‘Covid-19 stay away, but people please bring us food’. This was posted on the door. Some of the homes we go to become very hectic, because from the moment you walk in you can see that there is a need, it gets emotional,” Pillay said.
Deliveries and assessments are done every day. This day was no different. It was midday, children were walking around freely and playing in the street. A classic RnB song was blaring from a speaker carried by an unmasked man. Scrawny dogs roamed the streets as cars with masked drivers dodged potholes.
The first delivery was for Shouneez Pretorius, 35, who was about to leave to collect her social grant for her eight children. She and her husband are unemployed and rely on the Sassa child grant and odd cleaning jobs which she has not been able to do. With her crying two-year-old clinging to her, she calls the rest of her children, asking each of them to say their ages. The entire family of 10 shares a one-bedroom shack. Pretorius, her youngest children and her husband sleep on a double-bed mattress on the floor and the older girls share a mattress.
“This food parcel honestly helps so much; we really had nothing before this. It’s honestly been very hard for us. I used to get some money from doing washing and ironing jobs, but that stopped,” Pretorius said.
Her children, aged between two and 18 years, have relied on feeding schemes at their schools, but with schools closed due to the pandemic “it’s been terrible now”.
Each pair of little red sand-stained hands are sanitised before Pillay and her team leave.
At the next home was a similar scene. A jittery Tanya Gadalla, 34, can’t contain her gratitude. A recovering drug addict, she said she had been sober for almost two weeks, but admitted being hungry did not help with her cravings.
Gadalla has five children. Her eldest is 13 and her youngest is three years old.
Her biggest fear is that she’ll lose her children. For Gadalla, the food parcel means not having to turn to drugs to quell her “hunger”.
“I love Auntie Cheryl and these people so much; they came here and didn’t judge me. They only came here wanting to help me and my children. I’m so grateful. I’m going to stay sober, I promise, for my children. I’ll be honest, the craving gets me because the drugs take away the hunger. But at least this food parcel helps,” Gadalla said.