MAVERICK CITIZEN

Makers Valley Partnership: Sustaining inner-city food security during a pandemic

By Michelle Banda 29 April 2021

The food hub beneficiaries receive a meal in one of the community kitchens in Makers Valley. (Photo: MVP food hub activists)

During the Covid-19 crisis, many non-profit organisations have kept communities fed through soup kitchens. But the Makers Valley Partnership’s food hub has done much more than ensuring food for the poor. It has created entrepreneurship opportunities and pioneered sustainable community systems for access to food.

Last year Maverick Citizen reported on an important collaboration in inner-city Johannesburg that was pioneering a “network of possibilities” to respond to the crisis caused by Covid-19. Last week the Makers Valley Partnership’s (MVP’s) food hub, an initiative born out of the collaborative Covid-19 response and high levels of hunger in the Makers Valley area of downtown Johannesburg, celebrated its first birthday. 

We were invited to the party.

Held at Victoria Yards ,the MVP’s activists met to reflect on their journey; they examined the food hub’s evolution from an emergency response to what it is today; highlighting the best and worst moments as well as making future plans. 

They recalled how a year ago Covid-19 had arrived in South Africa unannounced, magnifying many needs within communities. Food insecurity was top among them. With businesses closed and unemployment rife, many families were left unsure of where their next meal would come from.

Ilka Stein is the founder of the Skhaftin bus (whose story we told here). She reflected on the story of their evolution:

“We started off with 60 litres of soup that we anticipated would feed at least 50 people but that number stretched to 80-plus people and in a few weeks it had doubled to 300 and more. That gave us the idea of  ‘no data, picture or survey can paint the full picture of hunger as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic’. So we had to make the food distribution sustainable, we made a call on anyone who had something to give, be it skill, food or entrepreneur ideas. What a year it has been!”

Over 80 volunteers responded, initially organising soup kitchens and food parcels.

However, the activists wanted their responses to be sustainable in the long term so a number of initiatives were born to unleash what they called a  “network of possibilities” to halt hunger in the Valley. These initiatives include six community kitchens, a community swap shop, soup kitchens and food parcels or door-to-door food distribution.

They are captured in this diagram: (Makers Valley Partnership food hub)

Makers Valley Partnership volunteers. (Photo: MVP food hub activists)

Community kitchens were set up across the Valley in partnership with existing community champions. Stoves, gas, pots and fresh produce were donated as a kickstart providing meals to about 100 people in the community twice every week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Several soup kitchens already existed in the area before the  Covid lockdown, but they were incorporated into the MVP food hub frame. Through these soup kitchens, more than 2,000 people have been fed. Desiree Beukas and Maria Maja are the organisers of the Fuller Park soup kitchen. They have vowed to continue feeding the needy and making it sustainable with a long term goal of venturing into a catering business.

Community veteran Refiloe Molefe, whose story we told here, runs one of the community kitchens just opposite the Johannesburg stadium. Molefe mixes the food she collects at the food hub with the vegetables she grows at her farm.

“Growing vegetables will be one of the factors to fight hunger. I advise anyone who has space in their yards to grow them. Yes, flowers are beautiful for decorations, but vegetables are everything,” said Molefe.

Grateful Makers Valley Partnership activists flaunt their well-received food donations. (Photo: MVP food hub activists)

A community swap shop was set up in partnership with an organisation specialising in creative waste management called Lock (Love Our City Klean). Local residents collect recyclable waste off the streets that they cash in for points at the swap shop. The points earned can be redeemed at the recycling swap shop, which is stocked up with (surplus) food items received from other NGOs focussing on the right to food: SA Harvest, Nosh, Nutri-Pick and Chefs with Compassion.

This is a win-win-win situation. The neighbourhood wins as it is cleaner, Lock wins because it receives more recyclables for their business and residents win because they get to have dignity as they provide for their families. 

According to “Jojo” (Johanna) Monama, the leader of the food parcel and door-to-door teams, the volunteers have experienced highs and lows in the initiative which they take as an encouragement to do better.

“Our best memories were when people celebrated getting food and came back to us showing appreciation with the ‘God bless’ commentary.”

Food hub coordinators Sandra Van Oostenbrugge and Joseph Mafa said that, looking forward, the initiative’s mission is to improve and facilitate food security and sovereignty in Makers Valley.

From the forefront: Desiree Beukas and Maria Maja, the organisers of the Fuller Park soup kitchen, prepare a meal for their Tuesday operation. (Photo: MVP food hub activists)

“The aim is to grow the food hub into an independent and sustainable social enterprise. To achieve this, it will educate, inspire, advocate, and create change in our understanding of food and food systems and in our eating habits. We will spotlight and support environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable ways of alleviating hunger, obesity and poverty and create and participate in networks to push for food sovereignty in the Makers Valley and beyond,” said Van Oostenbrugge.

The MVP chief executive officer Thobile Chittenden said through the food hub they are also encouraging entrepreneurism and promoting a community currency.

“In the process, the project will contribute to social cohesion and community-building in accordance with well-being and circular economy principles, and provide education and training for residents and other local stakeholders on a number of key environmental justice issues including food rescue and management of food waste.” DM/MC

If you would like to support the MVP food hub, contact Thobile Chittenden at [email protected] or on 071 529 7226.

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