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It takes a crisis to raise a community: Makers Valley Partnership grows with public support

Children wait for soup in Victoria Yards, Johannesburg. The closure of schools affected the vulnerable and poor as most families benefited from schools feeding their children a nutritional meal. (Photo: Lungile Hlatshwayo)

Earlier this year, the Covid-19 hard lockdown brought hunger and hardship to poor communities everywhere. But active citizens stood up in solidarity and empathy with their neighbours, starting food kitchens, food gardens and other activities to build community cohesion. Six months later, we look back on the progress made by one of them.

In July Maverick Citizen reported on the “wellbeing economy”, the network of possibility that was growing as members of the Makers Valley Partnership (MVP) in inner-city Johannesburg did their best to rise to meet the needs of the local community. Since then, according to Thobile Chittenden, the CEO of the MVP, “there has been a significant interest and awareness around the need for food security in our community, but also excitement and interest around the models used”.

One of the highlights was recognition by Radio 702 and the Dis-Chem Foundation, which led to the projects being featured on 702 and a generous grant of R10,000 a month from the Dis-Chem Foundation, R5,000 of which is a voucher for goods from Dis-Chem.

“We spent the first Dis-Chem voucher on Saturday/Friday’s Recycling Swop Shop, which will be stocked with sanitary pads, toothpaste and other personal hygiene products,” reported MVP food coordinator Sandra van Oostenbrugge a few weeks ago.

It seems that the energy and imagination behind the project has sparked a chain reaction of goodwill.

Chittenden reports proudly on the establishment of six community kitchens, decentralised from the one food kitchen operating during the lockdown, “all thriving and each serving 60 to 80 meals twice weekly”. 

The community kitchens are embarking on a business development process to empower the owners to use their equipment/assets for additional income and to ensure sustainability. 

“Some kitchens are preparing to become catering suppliers for events during the festive season,” says Chittenden.

Van Oostenbrugge tells me by WhatsApp, “It’s interesting to see how people are drawn to keep the MVP Food Security projects going & growing, they were never even written down on a serviette 😉.”

She tells me proudly about the donation of a fridge and regular drops of vegetables, adding that, “Another great thing that is happening is that other communities are reaching out to see if we can help them set up a Recycling Swop Shop in, for example, Hillbrow.”

The swop shop, where community members can buy food (and now health and hygiene products) with a local currency earned in exchange for recycled waste, is one of the great local innovations brought about by the Covid-19 crisis.

Chittenden lists some of the other areas of progress as:

  • Members of Eastgate shopping centre management visited the Makers Valley area for the first time. “They were in awe of the activities taking place and expressed their interest in partnering.”
  • A relationship has been built with Umbrella Foundation, which wished to replicate the model on a smaller scale within its community. Siyabonga Ndlangamandla, in charge of seeding community food gardens, visited Annette Smyth, the founder of the Umbrella Foundation, and her team to assist with establishing edible gardens at a school in Muldersdrift, Johannesburg.
  • New partners including the Rotary Club, Corona Care, the World Wildlife Fund and Nutripick have come on board to assist MVP’s further efforts for food security, “from enhancing our edible gardens through to funding and training to providing much needed items to the weekly Community Swop Shop”.
  • The Circular Economy and Environmental Management Department of the University of Johannesburg is looking at how it can support SMEs in Makers Valley in the green economy by providing engineering services.
  • Reporting and recognition in the international media such as The Guardian and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Finally, the show of love and support for the MVP’s effort has further strengthened relations with those organisations that were there from the start: Victoria Yards, the Curriculum Development Project, For Real, SA Harvest, NOSH Food Rescue, Nando’s, Timbuktu in the Valley Learning Space  and the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership, which continue to play their crucial roles in this “Network of Possibilities”. DM/MC 

If you would like to support the Makers Valley Partnership or any of the projects described in this article, contact Thobile Chittenden at [email protected] or on 071 529 7226. If you would like to support a local community food kitchen, please make a deposit at: 

Account name: Curriculum Development Project Trust
Reference: MVP Food Security

Bank:First National Bank
Branch: Eastgate Shopping Centre
Branch code: 257 705
Type of account: Cheque account
Account no: 5527 004 1699
SWIFT CODE: FIRNZAJJ

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