Fighting hunger, one loaf at a time

2009-11-20 00:00

IT’S obvious that the number of people waiting at Kwanyamazane in France township far exceeds the quantity of donated Albany bread loaves that are sitting on the back seat. It’s been impossible, on our way to this point, not to respond to the imploring gestures of women and head-of-household children with babies on their backs standing on the side of the road, waiting for Melanie du Plessis’s little yellow car to come by with its precious cargo of donated foodstuffs.

As a result, the stock is depleted.

Du Plessis is undaunted. For her, it’s just another day in France. She gets out and extends a hearty greeting to the assembled crowd, made up mainly of women, and there’s a separate queue of elderly women.

Although the crowd is disciplined, there are a few raised voices as Du Plessis and her volunteer assistant, Vusi Hadebe, hand out the loaves that are left. One per person. But it’s worth being assertive for. A large proportion of the township’s residents are unemployed, impoverished and have families to feed.

Du Plessis promises to bring more food the next day. Founder of non-profit organisation Reach Out, Du Plessis is a one-woman show, doing what she can in the area to meet some of the basic but pressing needs of its vulnerable people — mainly children and the elderly. She’s been a daily visitor to the impoverished township for about 12 years, distributing whatever she’s managed to collect from donors. She is currently trying to motivate for an increase in the amount of bread she gets from Albany.

Her first stop every day is the massive Mpumelelo Primary School, where upwards of 400 children start queuing at 7 am in an open, muddy patch of ground outside the school kitchen for soup cooked by the school, with ingredients donated by local retailer Save Cash & Carry, and the bread brought by Du Plessis from Albany.

Du Plessis has been working with the school for about 10 years and spearheaded the breakfast soup kitchen when it became clear that the state-sponsored meal was insufficient to meet the needs of growing children.

Mpumelelo teachers Thanda Mah-laba and Gugu Nkosi say that the improvement in the children’s concentration levels since they started receiving breakfast has been noticeable. On the way out of the school, a small sobbing girl passes by and Du Plessis moves to comfort her, trying to establish through Hadebe the cause of her distress. Eventually, it emerges that the girl’s shoes have been stolen and she must now go barefoot. “It’s a common problem,” says Du Plessis. “Shoes are a valuable commodity here; did you notice the poor condition of most of the kids’ shoes?”

In addition to the Mpumelelo school children, Du Plessis personally delivers food to a range of crèches, feeding about 700 children daily.

Her commitment to France and its people was recognised when Liberty Midlands Mall adopted Reach Out’s vision last year for the building of a community facility centre on prime municipal land in the centre of the township. The community centre will be geared towards the needs of children in particular, and will incorporate a drop-in centre, soup kitchen, a child advocacy centre and clinic.

A sod-turning ceremony took place last month. But it’s still a long road to the realisation of Du Plessis’s dream of a healthy, happy community. Mall marketing manager Minoli Chetty said that although the building will go ahead, based on the already significant contribution of R1,7 million received from Liberty Properties, sponsors for the facility are still needed because of an escalation in construction costs.

Du Plessis said the organisation will also need help with meeting the costs of running the facility once it is built. “I’ve promised my people that once the drop-in facility is complete, not one person who needs it will leave without having had a meal,” she said.

In the meantime, the daily outreach work of Reach Out must continue. Currently, the organisation receives no regular funding for running costs. Donations of food, clothing, toys and other materials are largely the result of Du Plessis’s ongoing personal efforts and commitment to people.

• Source: Liberty Midlands Mall motivation report.

With Christmas approaching, the organisation is planning to give a gift to as many as 3 000 children.

You may donate a new toy or an old toy in good condition, or make a contribution of R50 towards purchasing a gift.

The organisation also wants to feed 5 000 elderly people over the festive season, so any donations would be welcome.

To make a donation to Reach Out, or for more information, contact Melanie du Plessis at 082 445 1769 or 033 346 2631. Deposits for Reach Out can be made into the following bank account: Absa, branch 632005, account number 919 187 5622.

To make a contribution to the Liberty Midlands Mall building project, contact Minoli Chetty at 033 341 9570.

France is a low-cost housing development on the Richmond Road. Historically, it was a place to which families were moved during times of political violence and the devastating floods of 1990. It is made up of Ambleton phase 1 which has 524 RDP houses, Ambleton phase 2 with 2 004 houses and Slangspruit with 2 562 houses.

• At least six people live in each RDP house.

• Mpumelele Public Primary School in the area has 1 800 children, of which about 300 are orphans.

• A large number of children are HIV-positive. Many are poorly nourished.

• Elderly people bear much of the responsibility of raising children.

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