FEEL GOOD | 60 bakers, 1 mission - feeding grateful doctors, nurses on exhausting Covid shifts

Accurate packaging with caring messages forma a crucial part of the bakers' gifting to health care workers.
Accurate packaging with caring messages forma a crucial part of the bakers' gifting to health care workers.
Image: Supplied

  • In one Cape Town suburb, teams of five dozen bakers are waging war against Covid-19, armed with mixing bowls and oven gloves.
  • Every day, the teams roll out delicious assortments of baked treats for nurses, doctors and health workers.
  • It's an example of one of Cape Town's "Community Action Networks" in action to spread the love.

All the moving parts run like clockwork - with the precision of a Swiss watch.

But these products are not Omegas, Rolexes or TAGs … Instead, they're date balls, chocolate crispies and fudge!

Welcome to the "CAN" - Community Action Network – dedicated to a singular purpose: Baking to feed the team on the Covid-19 frontline.

Dr Ross Hofmeyr posted on Facebook this week: "05h20, 11 hours into Covid-19 shift, just finished with a critical patient in ICU and about to take a neurosurgical emergency possible Covid to theatre. Grabbing a quick bite to keep going, and I find not only are the Pinelands bakers caring for us, but our fallen staff live on in their love. Goggles now twice as foggy. #healthheroes."

Ross Hofmeyr

"We thought this was just for 21 days, for the initial lockdown," explained coordinator Suzy Cinderey.

"We were initially approached by Prof Hofmeyr, from Groote Schuur hospital, because all the hospital canteens were closed, and there were many staff who had no access to food at the hospital.

"I thought: I'm not a baker, but I sure can mobilise people."

And the rest is history. Every day, batches of baked delights are delivered to a variety of departments, including the ICU and the neonatal ward, feeding a range of healthcare workers on their exhausting, extended shifts.

"We have just enrolled our 62nd baker. A few have dropped out along the way as they have returned to work, but many have been at it since the start. The whole process is done anonymously – we know each other by our unique 'Baker Number'. For example, I'm 'Baker 16'," she explained.

But while their products may be mostly soft and dreamy, their management systems are hard and fast.

"Every baker has their time and days slots, and the group receives a Google alert when a batch is ready for evening collection," Cinderey explained.

"When it's ready, we have volunteers whose job it is to circle through Pinelands and Thornton every day, and collect all the baked booty. A couple of bakers even drop off from other suburbs. All with strict quality, labelling and logistics protocols.

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"At first, it was one doctor, who did it on his motorbike – until his motorbike was stolen," she reported.

Then another joined, then another, but now they are overwhelmed with work commitments, so the bakers do it themselves.

Each new baker, who volunteers to be part of the team, is given an information pack, access to the bakers' database and training – via information videos they have produced.

"For example, we even have instructional videos on how to mute a WhatsApp group – some of us, myself included, don't want their phones going 'ping ping ping'!" Cinderey explained.

Their self-designed management systems have been so efficiently successful they have now been approached by a number of other charity organisations – from NGOs to churches – eager to run their operations on the bakers' best practice.

The Pinelands Community Action Network (CAN) prepared a little collage of their teamwork.
A treat sent with love, echoing the phrase:
Fudge, fudge, glorious fudge!
Pinelands CAN bakers support health care workers
Accurate packaging with caring messages forma a crucial part of the bakers' gifting to health care workers.

But, details aside, we asked Cinderey about the heart of their operation: Exactly what they baked?

"Oh, we do almost everything – date balls, fudge, many kinds of muffins, crunchies, rusks, pancakes, chocolate crispies … peanut butter cookies are a huge favourite," she confided.

The operation has been running for more than 100 days now – with no sign of the appetite easing.

And almost every tray is self-funded by each baker.

"We did set up a 'virtual pantry', in which we have some commonly-used ingredients bought with funds donated by ex-bakers, who are now back at work, and by doctors who want to "pay it forward" to other hospital personnel.

"Sometimes a baker may say: 'I'm doing a tray of golden crunchies – does the pantry have any desiccated coconut? But at least 95% is paid for by the bakers themselves," Cinderey explained.

"It would be nice to put faces to names some day– only the collectors know who the bakers are by face. But we have a strong spirit of camaraderie and kinship over WhatsApp – we're always egging each other on.  

"We have supported one another through birthdays, businesses closing, repatriations, isolation and loss... just all sorts.  I've barely met them, but I love this tribe.

"We plan to put a recipe book together, so we can sell it and the proceeds can go to the Pinelands CAN, for more projects," she reported.

Asked what motivated her, personally, Cinderey said quietly: "My late mother was a nurse, so this is very close to my heart. She nursed for all of her life… this is very, very important to me."

For a moment, her voice cracked, as she shed a tear – but then rolled up her sleeves, and began preparing the next tray of freshly-rolled date balls.

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