Good Samaritans helping the elderly, children and poor families at Christmas

Nuraan Esack Gain runs the Hunger Has No Religion feeding scheme from her home in Coronationville six days a week.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi /The Sunday Times

It’s Christmas — and perhaps one of the toughest we’ve had in many years — but there will be no celebrations for a few charitable people who have decided to give their time this holiday in service of those most in need.

Cora Bailey, who leads Community Lead Animal Welfare (CLAW), a community-based primary veterinary services in Durban Deep township in Roodepoort, Johannesburg, has had to share donations for the animals with the groups of starving people since level 1 of the lockdown. This year, she hopes to give the poorest in the community something to eat for Christmas.

Every festive season CLAW does a toy drive for neighbourhood children, but Bailey said this Christmas will be the most bleak she’s ever had to face.

“We’ve been feeding the community and we are constantly donating toys and other items to children who walk kilometres every day for food.

“This year I’ll be happy if there is even enough to make a sandwich for every person who comes. But we are expecting a big donation of nougat which we will cut up so each child gets a piece for Christmas.

“Every day we get about 30 people. We’ve had days when there have been more than 100. There are not enough donations to keep tummies full. The public don’t realise what it’s like for the truly destitute. It would be amazing if people were able to help with donations, but with businesses closing down funding has dried up. This is the most depressing Christmas ever.”

Singakwazi Aid in Durban, a public benefit organisation, has been working with SA Harvest and The Seed Fund to deliver nutritious meals to needy families in KwaMashu township and Waterloo Verulam since lockdown this year.

Co-ordinator Gaylene Carlisle said the organisations target households run by the elderly who have up to eight children to feed while their parents work away.

“Now that businesses have closed and the economy has slowed, we are also looking after the parents in these homes.”

Each day the organisations cook enough food to fill 28 20-litre buckets for distribution to community leaders. Each bucket can provide 80-100 meals.

“I like to help dish up food when I can. This year we received a huge donation. We’ve used it to make 300 party packs for the children and 100 packs for the elderly.”

These gifts will be handed out for Christmas along with the meals this year.

Carlisle said lockdown had overwhelmed the poor communities which the three organisations feed. “Though we focus more on elderly-led households, Covid has no discrimination and we are now overwhelmed with the need for more food. Every day we are asked for help by a new community.”

Charles Grey, fundraising manager at the Peninsula School Feeding Association in Cape Town, said their Christmas feeding scheme will provide 20,000 people with two meals a day from December 1 to January 31.

The organisation was set up 62 years to feed impoverished schoolchildren at schools in the Western Cape. This year, with lockdown and an extended school holiday, the children fed at school by Peninsula continued to receive meals through 60 community kitchens set up in areas where they go to school.

As people couldn’t go to work and businesses closed, the kitchens began serving food to all people in need.

Instead of feeding children two warm meals a day, “in lockdown we had to resort to different types of feeding — like food parcels. It’s been a crazy year and we’ve seen real hunger. Hunger to the point that one of our food trucks was looted [during hard lockdown]. Nobody was hurt; the people were just desperate for food.”

This year for Christmas about 20,000 people will each get warm porridge for breakfast and a fish or soya mince biryani.

Nuraan Esack Gain’s charitable feeding project Hunger has no Religion, was started as a soup kitchen in her driveway in Coronationville, Johannesburg, many years ago. But during lockdown her scheme — which feeds 300-400 people a day — had to provide 1,200 meals a day. And has continued to do so.

This year with the help of donors, Esack Gain will also be distributing 300 gift packs to children in the community in a special handout.

“We will have our handouts as usual six days a week — including Christmas — but expect the number of people to increase on Christmas Day. This year we have a Santa who will take to the streets giving out gifts to street children. There are so many underprivileged children on the street this year and we wanted to do something special for them.

“Lockdown has been a terrible run for us as we were unable to get any donations from the government. Luckily we were able to rely on the kindness of strangers abroad who donated to the hungry.”

by Alex Patrick

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