The financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating effect on already poor communities. Many have lost their jobs and are desperate. As winter begins to bite, they face hunger and cold. Nhlanhla Mdlalose writes how he and his friends have found a simple way to feed the most impoverished members of Snake Park Township in Soweto.
Many children have to go through this winter season with torn and holey blankets, and they still share these blankets with their siblings. There are children who get into fights with their siblings over a jersey. Some have no blankets at all. For these families it’s difficult to afford to buy food let alone a new blanket.
The elderly suffer just as much. There are elderly people staying in shacks, back rooms with raw cement floors, holes in the walls, broken windows.
Winter is a beautiful season, but it is dreadful for all destitute families, children and elderly people. They are the longest three months of the year without warm clothes and warm bedding. It is a bitter season for those who live in shacks, or rooms with cold cement floors, holes in the roof and still have to fight off the hunger. Where do they find the strength that they need to overcome all of this?
Through the generosity of others. Three friends from Soweto saw the suffering around them and decided that even with their limited means, they could make a difference to the community of Snake Park Soweto.
On 24 May 2020, two months after the lockdown began and at time when people were becoming increasingly desperate, three friends — Busiswe, Nhlanhla and Rebone — recognized the need of the community and decided to provide a meal for the people of Snake Park.
“This is our new church”
The informal soup kitchen has become a weekly feature. Every Sunday, between 9 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon, we — helped by a small army of about 15 volunteers — can be found at the Thulani Community Hall in Snake Park. We bring our own pots and gas stoves. We set up socially distanced workstations and each person has their task: peeling, chopping, cooking.
Meanwhile, outside a small crowd begins to gather. The volunteers who help us ensure that everyone washes their hands with soap and water, wears a mask or at least covers their nose and mouth with a scarf or some other item of clothing. They encourage the recipients to keep their physical distancing and use the opportunity to engage the children and create awareness about COVID-19 and the prevention measures that everyone should take.
Once the food is ready, we hand out vegetable soup, pap, bread and warm meals. So far, our informal soup kitchen has fed more than 500 people from the Snake Park Community.
The need extends beyond food. We have taken it upon ourselves to help bring a little warmth to this hardest of winters by handing out blankets and warm clothing that we receive from generous donors.
Collecting food supplies and clothing donations is hard work. Two people who have cars drive to pick up any donations. We also accept Pick ‘n Pay vouchers which we use to buy supplies. We do not receive cash donations because this becomes difficult to account for.
“Why do you do this?” a friend asked me.
I said: “The churches are closed. There is nothing to do on a Sunday. This is our new Church. This initiative is not about us. It is about the community.”
The pictures we take each week show just how important small community-based initiatives like these are. This is not the time to wait for an NGO to come and feed the hungry and clothe those who are cold. This is a time to act with whatever means are available, to share whatever we have with others who have even less.
The photographs show the contented faces for those who stand patiently waiting for food and prove that every action, no matter how small, can make a difference to the life of another.
Anyone who wants to help Nhalnhla Mdlalose and his friends to feed and clothe the desperately poor people of Snake Park can contact him on 076 566 1224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.