WATCH | Ladles of love: a food charity's journey from donations to the hungry

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"It's miraculous." This is how the founder of a major Cape Town food charity has described the generosity of donors, and the Herculean effort by his team, to deliver almost a quarter of a million meals to the hungry. 

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This is one of many charities now feeding the hungry, as the impact of the lockdown continues to hit the economy.

On Monday, News24 offered a first glimpse inside the west wing of the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) – now converted into South Africa's largest Covid-19 temporary field hospital.

And on the eastern side of the Heerengracht, in one of the cavernous halls of CTICC 2, can be found a food charity: Ladles of Love - who have been using the hall to ramp up their efforts.

"I'm blown away," the charity's founder, Danny Diliberto, told News24. "Before lockdown, we were serving around 15 000 meals a month. Last week, we served 240 000 meals – in one week. That's the expansion we've experienced in two months.

"When I walk around and see volunteers climbing in… this floor was empty this morning. We had 15 tons of produce arrive, unpacked, all by volunteers. I just feel blown away."

Huge volumes

News24 this week watched as huge volumes of food arrived at the distribution centre, and was packed, marked and entered on to stock inventories. It was then prepared for distribution, loaded on to vehicles, and distributed to many different parts of Cape Town. 

In Tafelsig, near the False Bay coastline on the Cape Flats, Joni Fredericks explained: "This is the Tafelsig CAN (Community Action Network) – I am the admin. Surrounding me, we have 35 'change champions' – these are people who cook, for at least 300 people a day. That is what is expected of all the 'champions' around Tafelsig. This happens every day. Obviously, this cannot happen without support from people like 'Ladles of Love'."

Outside, queues of children lined up to receive a mid-morning snack, an apple - to chortles of delight.

Ladles of Love was founded five years ago to feed the local homeless a cup of soup. Its establishment was motivated by a word in the Sanskrit language, "Seva" – meaning "giving of yourself, wanting nothing in return".

"Being in the restaurant industry, I realised how easy it was. It all just clicked into place, and so our first soup kitchen was born," Diliberto explained. 

Before the lockdown, the small charity had been serving four soup kitchens, four schools, and working with several small groups of beneficiaries.

"When the president announced this lockdown, there was a drive in me, knowing I had to go out and get food out into the community – the homeless people in the city (centre) and out into the community (across the metropole).

"I didn't know how I was going to do it, I didn't know where I was going to get the money, I didn't know anything. I just knew I had to do it. I just went day-by-day. Each day that went by, I was blessed with more and more kindness around me."

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The food is sourced from major suppliers, including directly from some farmers, in the case of vegetables.

"We are buying in tonnes – this week alone we are going to purchase around 25 tonnes of vegetables. We have connected with other non-profits, which are on the ground, in the communities, which have soup kitchens. We provide them with food parcels, which they will then serve, through their soup kitchens. We also have a 'sandwich drive' – these sandwiches are made by the community around us, here in Cape Town. We collect them, then distribute them to our beneficiaries.

"Ladles of Love is staffed by a core team, which receives a stipend – a 'Central Processing Unit' – which is supported by a small army of volunteers.

"Today alone, we had around 50 volunteers," Diliberto said.  

The charity has the use of the CTICC until June. Asked about their challenges in meeting the great hungry need, he said: "Our biggest challenge is who to say 'yes' to, and who to say 'no' to. You can see all this food here – it's costing a fortune.

"We have been getting donations, but we don't know how long they will continue for. Even though lockdown might end, we've still got a lot of people who are going to be unemployed, below the poverty line. So we don't know how long we are going to need to sustain this. We want to sustain these people for at least the next four to six months. But the challenge is keeping the donations coming in."

Diliberto said members of the public, who wanted to contribute, could join their sandwich drive or donate in other ways.

"Especially now with us going to Level 3, we anticipate that a lot of people will be returning to work, so won't have the time to make sandwiches any longer. Or register as a volunteer."

For those without the time, they could also visit the charity's website for more on how to contribute.

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