'It's horrific' - charities plead for donations as families face a hungry December

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South Africa is on the cusp on an economic breakdown, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Getty Images)
South Africa is on the cusp on an economic breakdown, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Getty Images)
  • For some, the new lockdown regulations have led to a scramble to reschedule flights and long-awaited holidays.
  • But for others who have lost their jobs and even their homes during the Covid-19 pandemic, the holiday is going to be tough without help. 
  • A number of charities are already gearing up to make sure they have something in the cupboard to eat, even if their Christmas stockings will be empty. 

"It's horrific. People are just giving up, saying: 'I can't,'" Table View Angels' Ankarien Oelofse said between fielding calls and WhatsApp messages from streams of people hoping that somebody might be able to help them.

Before the pandemic, the angels, as they are known locally, used to send out messages on their Facebook page, asking people to contribute anything they could to top up somebody's electricity so that they can cook something small for their children, or donate bedding to people who were evicted when they fell on hard times.

Oelofse said people either lost their jobs, or had their salaries cut by between 40% and 50%.

Evicted because they couldn't make their rent payments anymore, they scraped what little they had left to rent garages from unscrupulous people, who charged them up to R4 000 for an amount of space usually used  for a car.

They were safe in the knowledge that desperate renters had a bad credit record after the financial catastrophes they endured this year, and wouldn't be able to jump through the hoops of credit checks, enormous deposits and advance payments through conventional renting.

With all of their money going to this rent, there is nothing left for anything else.

Many are evicted from these garages, or the overpriced wendy houses, and have exhausted all the generosity of friends and family. They have nowhere to go.

Oelofse said people live in cars and warehouses and eventually contact the Table View Angels for help because they know they will not be split up as a family.

In 2020, the organisation helped 2630 families, including families of up to nine people. People who call come from all walks of life.

"An estate agent phoned me the other day and said: 'Please can you just help me,'" said Oelofse.

And to be able to help them, the angels need help from people who may have some spare cash from not going on holiday anymore, or money saved from the reduced gift lists due to smaller family gatherings.

READ | Christmas will only be 'hugs and kisses' as job losses leave families shattered

They are raising funds to deliver a box of healthy food to the people on their books on 23 December and need donations to buy fresh vegetables and fruit - "not just baked beans and mielie meal".

They also need donations of toiletries, such as deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste, and especially nappies for babies of all sizes, as well as detergents so that families can at least keep their environment clean. 

Donors helped them put together Christmas presents for children on their books, but they still need treats like chocolates, sweets and suckers to cheer them up during the extraordinarily long school holiday at home. 

Oelofse is particularly worried about the mental health of people who call her for help.

She even receives calls from people saying they are going to end it all. 

"Some are just crying for help, but there are people who have actually tried, and some have succeeded."

READ | Covid-19: How life has changed for providers of mental health services

She said the mental health system in the Western Cape was failing people, and on a recent trip to take somebody to the Valkenberg psychiatric facility she was told that they were not taking any more people.

Hospitals are also not admitting patients who survive suicide attempts, opting to get them out of the woods and send them back home.

The angels have counsellors who volunteer, but even they are not getting a break.

To help the Table View Angels bring some relief to the people who reach out to them, people and companies can contact them via their Facebook page to arrange to drop off donations, or to make a deposit to help them buy the food and toiletries they want to distribute.

Cape Town's Ladles of Love is also gearing up to help people who are struggling to help themselves.

They have a fundraiser called Fill a Pot involving a R150 donation that will go towards their goal of filling 10 0000 pots with ingredients for one big pot of food for a community in need. 

The ingredients for each pot will be fetched by the non-profit organisations scattered around Cape Town who have been steadfastly cooking enormous pots of food for hungry communities throughout the pandemic. 

And, like many organisations, Ladles of Love has noticed a drop in donations and is asking people to dig deep. 

"People are giving less and less, and we understand," said Ladles of Love public relations officer Bianca Prins. "But hunger doesn't go away."

Prins said the little children were the ones who were lining up the most every day. And by the end of the queue, the pot is empty, with nothing left for the others. So extra donations will help.

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