Turning 50 for many people is a great opportunity to party – and hopefully loads of presents too. But for one Cape Town woman, it was a chance to give something to the community instead.
Anthea Barendse of Grassy Park set herself a challenge in what she calls her 50 days of blessings.
“I decided 50 days before my birthday I wanted to bless other people – just everyday blessings, big or small,” she says.
Anthea, a mom of four, “did some introspection”.
“I was gobsmacked by God’s grace towards my family and my life, especially when I took into account that so many people in our country have had it so hard – especially in recent months.”
She is also hyper-aware of the scourge of gender-based violence, she adds, especially as a mother of daughters.
Anthea, an accountant by profession, works in the finance department of various NGOs but the jobs only require her to do 20 hours of service per week. With time on her hands, she decided to immerse herself in charity work, including giving back to the community through goodwill causes.
“I realised that when the Lord blesses you, you must be grateful and the only way you can repay God is to give back to people who don’t have as much as you do,” she says.
Anthea started by reaching out to her friends with ideas for initiatives she wanted to start, including feeding schemes and party packs for children’s homes. She also wanted to revive a successful handbag drive she did in 2015, which focused on uplifting women.
“I sent a message to all my friends on WhatsApp and asked them to donate their old or unused handbags and some toiletries. I also asked the ladies to put a message of hope in the bags to show that the women are loved and appreciated and that we understand their struggles.”
Anthea then undertook to hand out the bags and do other good deeds in the 50 days leading up to her big 5-0. Every morning when she woke up, she marked her calendar and counted down the days before her birthday as well as other tasks she would carry out that day.
“It didn’t have to be something big,” she says. “One day I found myself in a pharmacy behind an old lady in the queue who couldn’t pay her bill. So I helped her pay it and she was so grateful.”
Her friends also dug deep – one gave her an envelope containing R1 800 in cash and another donated 13 bags to her cause.
Anthea says she keeps photos and receipts to keep track of all the donations made to her during her campaign.
“I am a firm believer in full transparency and to go as far as you can to show people what you’ve done,” she says.
Anthea received 109 bags in total, including designer bags and even brand-new bags.
She then visited several organisations all over
Cape Town, including homes for abused women and victims of human trafficking.
“While visiting these homes, I quickly realised the women often had their kids with them. When you leave a bad situation, you also grab your children.”
One of the homes that Anthea went to had eight moms and 14 children. While giving out the handbags, she also handed out party bags to the kids.
Anthea also visited a home in the Mother City that takes in pregnant women. “There was a 13-year-old girl who was heavily pregnant and I decided to go to the store and buy baby goods for her. I also made a special package for the mom-to-be which included treats for her and things for the baby,” she says.
Many of the women hadn’t had visitors for months because of lockdown and it was wonderful to see their excitement when she arrived with the goodies, Anthea adds.
“I also got to sit down with some of the women and give them some words of comfort.”
Anthea describes the experience as “profound” and says her outreach work won’t end now that the 50 days of blessings are over.
“We need to let these young girls and women know that someone cares, that they are loved and prayed for, and that we are trying to make a difference in their lives.”