The African Children Feeding Scheme is more than a soup kitchen. It also helps get families back on their feet.
A GROUP of young schoolchildren brave the biting morning chill of a gradually approaching winter to receive their daily ration of peanut butter sandwich and cup of milk at Pimville Feeding Centre in Pimville, Soweto.
Phindile HlaleleACFS executive director Phindile HlaleleThey form a long winding queue at the serving hatch and settle on the grass to enjoy their meal. The children range in age from five to seven years and are from a local primary school. They often come at break time or after school for their daily meals.
Some are orphans affected by or infected with HIV/Aids and the peanut butter sandwich and cup of milk is probably the only nutritious meal that they are going to have for the day.
Pinville Feeding Centre feeds about 2 000 children every day. It is one of the 13 centres managed by the African Children Feeding Scheme (ACFS).
The ACFS was started in 1945 by the late Anglican Bishop Trevor Huddleston as a soup kitchen in winter for hungry children in Sophiatown. Five years later, the first permanent feeding centre was established. It fed 4 000 children daily.
Today, it provides orphans and child-headed families with food, care, counselling and assistance in obtaining social grants. According to the ACFS executive director, Phindile Hlalele, the feeding centre helps relieve hunger, especially among orphans and vulnerable children.
The ACFS’s centres are in Soweto and Alexandra in Joburg; Kagiso and Tshepisong on the West Rand; and Thembisa, Kwa-Thema and Tsakane on the East Rand.
Children enjoy a good mealChildren enjoy a good meal“We provide 31 500 children with milk and a peanut butter sandwich daily. We work to promote healthy citizens who are economically viable and self-sufficient," says Hlalele.
At the end of each month, some families are given food parcels of maize, rice, samp, beans, split peas and oats.
Hlalele explains that beneficiaries are not the homeless, but are families affected by the scourge of HIV and Aids and, more recently, the global economic recession.
Children in need are identified by health workers and social workers who visit schools to assess the health of the children at the beginning of the year. “During home visits, we often pick up that parents are unemployed or are too poor to provide the required nutrition for their children.”
The organisation also has bakkies that drive to distant areas in the city to deliver food daily to impoverished families.
Apart from the feeding scheme, the ACFS offers spaces for planting vegetables, as well as skills development training for parents whose children are on the scheme, with a view to their becoming economically independent.
Communal vegetable gardens at each of its 13 centres encourage and teach men and women how to grow their own food. Although the vegetable beds are small, they plant three or four different types of vegetables in rotation.
“Our main aim is to encourage people to be sustainable. The programme helps restore dignity and discourages people from having a dependency syndrome,” says Hlalele. Once people gain the necessary skills and confidence, they are encouraged to start their own vegetable patch at home, she adds.
skillsACFS offers skills training to beneficiariesBheki Shezi, one of the beneficiaries who own a small vegetable patch at the Pimville Feeding Centre, speaks of how the organisation saved his family from hunger. Before joining the project, Shezi struggled daily to provide food for his five children.
He now grows beetroot, spinach and onions on his small patch, and does not worry as much anymore about where his next meal will come from. “When I don’t have money to buy food, I come here to take vegetables from my garden to feed my family,” Shezi explains.
In addition, to food gardening, ACFS offers courses in sewing, beadwork, shoemaking and baking to beneficiaries for a year. “As a result, some people have been able to start their own small businesses, which enable them to support themselves,” Hlalele says.
She gives an example of a group of women who are now running a successful factory in Soweto creating dolls using traditional isishweshwe fabric. The design of the dolls is based on drawings by children from one of ACFS’s feeding centres.
The project employs 21 women whose children were previously enrolled in the feeding scheme. “This allows us to discharge formerly dependent families from the scheme and admit new cases.”
To make a donation to ACFS or for more information, contact Phindile Hlalele on 011 839 2630/1 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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