Maverick Citizen

Food Justice


Joburg’s People’s Pantry pleads for help to keeping feeding hundreds of desperate people

Joburg’s People’s Pantry pleads for help to keeping feeding hundreds of desperate people
The People’s Pantry supports seven community kitchens, feeding more than 500 people a week. One of the busiest kitchens operates from the back of the Troyeville Hotel in Johannesburg. (Photo: Vasty Kilolo)

The People’s Pantry, which feeds 500 people a week from its soup kitchens and more than 150 families through its community swap shop, is in danger of closing owing to financial constraints and a lack of equipment.

The People’s Pantry (TPP) in Victoria Yards, Johannesburg, started during the initial hard lockdown in 2020. “Covid was almost like a magnifying glass that highlighted how vulnerable people are regarding accessing food,” said TPP director Sandra van Oostenbrugge. 

Very few people in the community have income security, with high levels of hunger and unemployment. “Many people cannot access grants, we have a lot of non-South Africans living here, and rising food prices are always at play,” she explains. 

The TPP started soup kitchens to address the challenge of accessing food during the hard lockdowns. “The People’s Pantry is now a registered organisation because it became very clear to us that food insecurity is here to stay. In urban areas we are extra vulnerable, we can’t farm… we can’t grow any veggies, we rent rooms and our landlords don’t want you to run up water bills, so it’s complicated.” 

The TPP runs two projects – soup kitchens and a swap shop. 

The People’s Pantry rescued 14 tonnes of edible food last year. (Photo: Vasty Kilolo)

“There are seven soup kitchens. The teams come to us and it is mostly women who volunteer their help, and some cook meals from the back of their homes,” she explains. There is also a soup kitchen that is primarily filled with children. “It always amazes me, it is young kids with younger kids, you have brothers coming with their small sisters.” Collectively, these soup kitchens feed about 500 people per week. 

On Fridays, the TPP runs a Community Recycling Swap Shop that provides food for up to 15o families. It allows residents who do not have money to buy food at a local grocery store, to access food in a dignified manner. “There is so little dignity in lining up for food, so we started a project that allows people to choose what they want to buy,” she added. Residents are given an opportunity to drop off recyclable items such as plastic bottles, cartons and tins. “This happens twice a week, and you receive points for this which are redeemable at TPP’s swap shop to purchase surplus food items,” Van Oostenbrugge explained. The TPP also rescued 14 tonnes of edible food in 2022. Every bit of food that comes in is separated between the soup kitchens and the swap shop, she said.  

Helping hand needed

“One of my pains is that I would love to run the swap shop more than one day a week because the need is there, but we don’t have the means to open it for more than one day because we don’t get enough food in and also we don’t really have any support regarding equipment,” said Van Oostenbrugge. 

The team at TPP is lean but dedicated and needs a significant increase in support. There are currently only three team members, who work two days a week since there is not enough money to pay a decent wage. 

Read in Daily Maverick:A community swap shop initiative in Joburg where people can trade recyclables for food

“The team is small and dedicated but they also have a lot of stuff on their shoulders themselves, it is not like they have a lot of money in the bank and good food in the fridge,” she adds. 

The soup kitchens also need more support. “We need more support for our kitchens so they’re able to cook in bulk, and then package some of that food and make sure it gets to the elderly.”

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The TPP receives most of its financial support from individual donors.

“We are still an organisation functioning the way we are and running these projects because of individual donations, individuals are the ones who put money in our account.” 

Financial support would benefit the communication team that has been with them for the past two years on a voluntary basis. “I’m very grateful for that, but we need to eat, everybody needs to be able to eat a meal,” Van Oostenbrugge adds. 

On Fridays, The People’s Pantry runs its Community Recycling Swap Shop where residents can drop off recyclable items in exchange for points they can use to buy food in Victoria Yards, Lorentzville, Johannesburg. (Photo: Vasty Kilolo)

The TPP also lacks important equipment such as fridges. “We need some support equipment… none of our soup kitchens have fridges. Now with the lights going on and off with the Eskom power outages it’s really hard to keep the fruit that we get fresh, the packing material is always short, and IT support would be fabulous because we work from our phones at times.”

Van Oostenbrugge hopes that in the near future the TTP will be able to deliver food to the elderly who are hungry. “They can’t even get to the soup kitchens and we have been thinking how we will get food to them, but we don’t have the means, we don’t have the people to package the food and get it to the elderly, unfortunately.”  

Funding dilemma

To receive funding from corporations, an organisation needs an NPO certificate. The TPP has applied for one, but its application is still in the pipeline along with 5,400 other nonprofit organisations. 

“Our NPO application has been sitting with the Department of Social Development for months, so we are currently looking for overseas funding because they do not always need the NPO certification,” Van Oostenbrugge explained. 

The People’s Pantry has a mission to create ‘a food-secure Makers Valley with a thriving and environmentally sustainable local food system, in a food-sovereign South Africa’, says Sandra van Oostenbrugge, director of The People’s Pantry. Nomfundo Kwini (left) and Mthabisi Sithole volunteer at the Community Recycling Swap Shop on a Friday. (Photo: Vasty Kilolo)

Sandra van Oostenbrugge, director of The People’s Pantry, with Victor Mpofu from SA Harvest. (Photo: Vasty Kilolo)

However, the Ukraine war had made this challenging. “We are trying to grow our support base, we are reaching out to church communities and individuals until we have the paperwork that we are struggling to obtain.” 

Tackling food insecurity in an urban setting

Van Oostenbrugge says people need to think of ways to create a more just food system that serves communities better.  

“It needs a collective awakening, almost. We really need to put our heads together on how are we going to live in an urban setting, how are we going to support a food system that serves us better?”

One solution she proposes is using canteens, as some South American countries do, serving affordable and nutritious food straight from the farm. “Equipment and financial support would really help us to collaborate with other projects. There’s some really beautiful stuff happening in this community and I’m always big on collaborations, because together you’re much more impactful.” 

To donate to The People’s Pantry:

Bank: FNB

Account name: The People’s Pantry NPC

Account number: 62924672852

Branch code: 250655



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