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Community forum battles to feed the hungry in Bonteheuwel

Hungry residents wait to receive food from the Bonteheuwel Community Forum. (Photo supplied)

After many households have lost their income during the lockdown, Bonteheuwel Community Forum is ensuring that households don’t go hungry.

The Bonteheuwel Community Forum started distributing food parcels when the lockdown was enforced. Now, with many households stuck at home, they are battling to feed the growing number of households in need.

“The first week we handed out about 220 parcels. Every week we were handing out food parcels, then we found it was becoming too difficult because it takes a lot of money and we were not servicing everybody,” said Henriette Abrahams, chairperson of the Bonteheuwel Community Forum.

The number of people who were in need had grown rapidly as each week households were losing their income, said Abrahams.

The funds for the food parcels were raised by the Bonteheuwel Community Forum from residents and friends.

About 1,500 food parcels were distributed in the first few weeks before the forum decided to switch to cooking meals for residents.

Seventeen blocks in the area have feeding scheme teams. These feeding schemes are made up of mostly women who cook in their homes in 100-litre pots.

The feeding schemes cater for Bonteheuwel as well as residents in adjacent areas in Jakes Gerwel Drive, Epping and Valhalla Park.

The 17 blocks provide breakfast between 9am and 10am. 

“When we started we were providing food twice a week. The majority of our kitchens are now cooking four times a week,” Abrahams told Daily Maverick.

For supper, ingredients are given to families to cook. Each block has a block coordinator and alongside their feeding scheme, they raise funds to buy additional ingredients to give to families.

“Food prices have skyrocketed,” said Abrahams, who buys large portions like 300kg of rice every week for the feeding scheme.

The red tape that comes with distributing food parcels has seen many families going to bed without food.

A week ago, Tembinkosi Bonakele, the Competition Commission’s commissioner, told the Trade and Industry Committee that they’d received about 1,300 complaints about unfair pricing since the State of National Disaster was announced.

“We started out with a figure of providing 20,400 meals per week. Since we started cooking more days in each week we have more than doubled our weekly amount of meals,” said Abrahams.

When residents fetch food at their blocks, there are markings on the ground to encourage physical distancing and everyone needs to be wearing a mask. “We tell everyone: no mask, no food,” said Abrahams.

However, “We’ve worked with retrenched seamstresses to make masks and when we see people without masks, we give them one.” 

Abrahams says ensuring that families have food during the lockdown is a “stressful and heart-wrenching job, because on a Thursday I would think, we didn’t raise a lot of funds… what do we issue now?”

Abrahams is also frustrated with how slow the government is when it comes to distributing food parcels and giving workers their UIF money.

The red tape that comes with distributing food parcels has seen many families going to bed without food.

With Eid on Monday 25 May, a number of Muslim organisations have given Muslim households food parcels. 

“The Muslims have a fitra parcel because they believe that no one should go hungry on the day of Eid. So, Muslim organisations hand out food parcels for Muslim families in need and that happens every year. I know that most of the families [in Bonteheuwel] have gotten their fitra parcels,” Abrahams told Daily Maverick.

Ordinarily, Eid celebrations would have seen many Muslim families celebrating and sharing a meal together. Under the current lockdown regulations that isn’t possible.

The Muslim Judicial Council has urged Muslim people to stay home during the upcoming Eid celebration and to exercise physical distancing.

But the challenges for Abrahams and the community remain. 

“The longer lockdown is, the more difficult it is to get food and donations. People have their own [financial] hardships to deal with as well,” said Abrahams. DM 

Donations to Bonteheuwel Community Forum’s feeding scheme can be sent to:

Standard Bank
Bizlaunch Account
Account number: 10118679404
Branch code: 036309
Swift address: SBZAZAJJ

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