Charity begins at home with farmers’ loaves & fishes

When the Soup Kitchen bakkie distributes food every weekday, there’s tangible joy in the midst of the squalor and neglect of the Kgotsong township near Bothaville – thanks largely to the farmers who this year supplied the project with over 140t of maize, not to mention fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat. Annelie Coleman reports.

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When the Soup Kitchen bakkie distributes food every weekday, there’s tangible joy in the midst of the squalor and neglect of the Kgotsong township near Bothaville – thanks largely to the farmers who this year supplied the project with over 140t of maize, not to mention fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat. Annelie Coleman reports.

Through generous and mostly anonymous support from local farmers, the Bothaville and Kgotsong Community Feeding Project delivers 15 000 to 17 000 hot meals a month to hungry people in Bothaville and the neighbouring township of Kgotsong.
Says chairperson Rickus Venter, “Most of our contributions come from local farmers. Maize is delivered on our behalf to the local mill, and the first we know about it is when the mill contacts us. Farmers provided over 142t of maize this year, allowing us to offer nearly 200 000 meals, mainly to children, the elderly and mothers with babies.”
The project, commonly known as the Soup Kitchen, was founded in 2002 by the three local Dutch Reformed Churches. Rickus formed a committee to get the ball rolling. “We started in June 2002 without proper equipment, no infrastructure to speak of and without really understanding the enormity of the task. But the good Lord smiled upon us and we went from strength to strength.

“We built up contacts in the township and rapidly expanded to 15 feeding points, excluding Bothaville town, where a hot meal is provided every day except weekends and major public holidays.”

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The project is run by 15 volunteers and seven staff. Volunteer and secretary of the management committee Rita Hein explains, “It’s my contribution as a Christian to poverty alleviation. There’s a misperception that acute poverty only occurs in the townships, but we also feed 12 to 13 families in the town itself.
“We manage on a shoestring budget, with the most basic of equipment. We urgently need a bakkie – should any of your readers be interested,” she adds hopefully.

Making a difference
Fulltime employee Maria Radebe still remembers her school days and the happy anticipation of the meals. “My family and I live in the Naledi part of Kgotsong and regularly received food from the Soup Kitchen. Oh, that food tasted good! I was lucky to have both my parents, but we were very poor and struggled desperately to make ends meet. The food kept us going, and I am grateful to have been employed by the Soup Kitchen after school.

“But there are many children like me who still depend on the old white bakkie for food. I so wish we could find a way to expand our services and reach the parts of the township where food isn’t delivered yet.”

Long-term employee Ntate Thomas Modisenyane is dedicated to the Soup Kitchen. “I‘ve seen the positive changes since the very first day,” he says. “Children come to the feeding points suffering from malnutrition – weak and thin. It’s wonderful to see them filling out and growing stronger. Many live with relatives or grandparents and single parent families.

“The desperate poverty in Kgotsong is heartbreaking and it seems the need increases daily. It isn’t always easy, but this project has done a lot over the years for thousands of children and old people.” Volunteer Magriet Venter says the need in Bothaville itself is also increasing. “The impact of the economic recession is clear. People have lost their jobs and are dependent on handouts. In many cases the Soup Kitchen is their only source of food, and more often than not they’re looking after large families.

“I’m so thankful to be bringing a little bit of comfort, warmth and love. God in His mercy has never let us down and there hasn’t been a single day in seven years that we couldn’t feed our people.”

Food from farmers
The Soup Kitchen insists on balanced meals. The staples are maize meal or samp, served with stew or soup. Often these meals are the only food recipients will get that day, and it therefore has to be nutritious and filling. The stew consists of vegetables and, when available, meat.

“We’re sticklers for detail and, for example, minimise salt with the elderly in mind,” says Rickus. “The food is cooked on our premises in the Bothaville industrial area and then delivered in Kgotsong and Bothaville town. It’s very important to us that the food is served hot, as it’s much more comforting. Cold pap or samp is unappetising.”
Local farmers are the projects’ main donors.

 “The two vegetable farms in our district, Greenpak and Yukon, supply some 300kg of carrots every week,” says Rickus. “We have a regular supplier of eggs, too. Fruit and vegetables such as pumpkin and watermelons are delivered by bakkie loads. One day we received 650 watermelons!”  “Farmers also often arrive out of the blue with enough meat to feed a proverbial multitude. For example, we received three beef carcasses and eight sheep carcasses on separate occasions this past year. You can imagine how many mouths those feed!”

Rickus says local businesses are another great help. “One of the town’s biggest supermarkets gives us all the wares after their sell-by dates. The project relies on donations to cover monthly expenses of R12 000 to R16 000 per month. “But maize donations from our farming community are so generous we can sell some back to the mill to generate an income,” says Rickus.

“We’re extremely prudent and keep very strict financial control. Our treasurer, Johan Aucamp, is a retired bank manager. Nevertheless, after seven years I’m still amazed by the inherent goodness of people. An unknown donor is currently paying a substantial amount into our account every month towards staff salaries.” Kids Against Hunger, an American international food relief campaign has also become involved. Johan explains: “We heard about Kids Against Hunger from one of our contacts and sent them a comprehensive brief.

They were so impressed they sent us thousands of rands worth of fortified soy rice with vitamins, packed by volunteers across the US. “It’s highly nutritious and includes dried vegetables and a whole array of vitamins and minerals. We’re in further negotiations and expect a significant donation in 2009.”

Rickus concludes. “We dearly want to expand our service in Kgotsong. We’ve learnt to rely on Providence and the goodness of people. I get teary eyed when I reflect on the past seven years … how food was left on our doorsteps, the unexpected deposits in our bank account and the hard work and dedication of our volunteers, to name but a few incidents.” Contact Rickus Venter
on 084 603 0558.     |fw