Fighting hunger on wheels


[Image] For those who are unable to make provisions for the future, the retirement years are extremely difficult; this is why Meals on Wheels has begun the Caregiver Initiative and started it at Reuven Old Age Home in the south of Johannesburg.

[Image] Christine Crossly, caregiver to 284 elderly residents at Reuven.

[Image] One of the many vegetable gardens being planted at Reuven as part of their makeover project.
(Images: Cadine Pillay)

Michelle Wohlberg,
Meals on Wheels
+27 82 410 3576 or +27 86 000 0700

Cadine Pillay

Meals on Wheels (MoW) was established in 1942 and has since been operating a community feeding scheme serving hungry families and delivering nutritious meals to schools, orphanages and shelters for the homeless across South Africa.

Their 141 branches countrywide serve over 400 service points and in 2011, the organisation broke its own record, providing more than 13-million meals over the duration of the year.

For staff in the Johannesburg branch, the need for such an organisation is experienced far and wide. Finding himself in a desperate situation, a Johannesburg school principal who recently discovered that 80 of his pupils were coming to school hungry on most days, requested MoW’s help, and their response was to deliver meals for them twice a week.

The organisation’s volunteers also operate several soup kitchens in some of the city’s poor areas and surrounding towns such as Alberton, Moffat View, Rosettenville and Boksburg. In these communities, MoW has found a situation where unemployment among the adults leads to a vulnerability to crime and the elements, as most have nowhere else to go.

Even larger organisations such as the Salvation Army in Johannesburg depend on the help of MoW. Specially prepared meals are made by volunteers and collected regularly by officials from the Salvation Army for their HIV positive patients.

Over their years of service, however, the people at MoW realised that it was more than just food that people needed. In a lot of cases, caregiving services were also a necessity.

“The more we expand the meal delivery service, the more we come across traumatic situations that demand far more than just food,” said Enrico Robinson, the organisation’s manager.

Caring for the aged

In an effort to address this situation, the organisation started its caregiving initiative, which also extends countrywide. At Reuven Old Age Home in the south of Johannesburg, Christine Crossly is the only caregiver to the 284 residents.

Her job includes assessing and analysing their needs, which may include taking some of the residents to the nearby hospital for their chronic medication and check-ups, fetching medication for those who don’t have to go, and running other errands on their behalf.

“Most of these people just need attention and care, even if it’s just having a cup of tea with them,” said Crossly.

She has several resident volunteers who assist her with her duties, providing caregiver services for the more frail residents. Crossly encourages interaction amongst the residents so that they can take care of each other in her absence. The volunteers also help out at MoW’s weekly soup kitchens around the city.

MoW gives training to people who want to become caregivers. The organisation’s vision is to provide caregivers for every home or shelter that needs them.

“As cheesy as it sounds, our mission is to feed and look after the world,” said Michelle Wohlberg of MoW. “We want to take care of their physical and emotional needs.”

Inspired to make a difference in the lives of poor people, Wohlberg moved from a professional career in the corporate sector several years ago to work for MoW.

“One of our volunteers, who is also a pensioner, has not received his monthly grant for several months. This left him in a situation where he was unable to pay his rent,” she explained.

With the help of a local company that is now sponsoring R500 (US$60), she said, his monthly expenses are covered. The company agreed to keep the sponsorship up until the problem with his pension pay-out has been resolved.

Restoring hope

Another of MoW’s initiatives organises refurbishing of the living spaces in which the volunteers’ charges live. The makeover project encourages companies or individuals to adopt a family or orphanage that is in dire need, and to give their surroundings a complete makeover.

Some of the companies go beyond just sponsoring the refurbishment, but also use the opportunity as a team building exercise for their employees. At Reuven in particular, some of the makeover work involved planting vegetable gardens outside each residential block and painting the walls in the rooms as well as outside.