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The face, flushed in the sunlight, was familiar. Yes … it was the gentleman we’d dubbed Johan when we interviewed him for our 2017 winter appeal. What was he doing here, in the Benoni Goodwill Centre? We quickly caught up. Now 64, Johan had sold his pig farm to finance his third grandchild’s university study but had been unable to find employment. Ironically his family had turned its collective backs on him.
Johan had been homeless for four years and we were worried as we hadn’t seen him in his usual spot for some time. “When next we saw him,” related Major Jeff Stafford, head of the Centre, “we asked if he’d like to come to the Goodwill Centre.” Johan was delighted and grateful and has been here for some months now. “I’m so happy here. Each day I can have a nice hot bath or shower, sleep in a warm bed, and the food is delicious − I don’t have to worry about getting enough motorists’ hand-outs for food. This Centre has given me back my dignity. I even go to church. The people are kind, friendly and helpful.”
Since Major Stafford is a kind, caring, and Godly person, people in need are made to feel welcome and respected. “When souls arrive here they’re both mentally and physically broken, and have nowhere else to go. Most arrive with just the clothes on their back and no money. Many know what it’s like to spend nights on the street,” explains the Major.
A bridge for the better
The Centre is a bridge to a new and better life, providing comfort and care. It’s a place where people can stay while they get on their feet again. We give them a chance to reflect on why and how they got here. We help them work through their problems so they can change their lifestyle. We teach them self-worth, and some even find their faith. We let them know they’re not alone.
The complex includes a block with accommodation for 24 pensioners and rooms for 38 singles and families needing temporary support. Residents share in the work of running the Centre, helping with cleaning, cooking, and food distribution. They love helping to cook for the homeless because they’ve been there. There’s also a crèche that provides very low cost, quality care for 26 kids from impoverished families in the area. Maintaining the old buildings is on-going and paint donations are always most welcome.
“As part of our outreach programme, every weekday we feed between 100 and 140 homeless people outside the Benoni Goodwill Centre, with hot soup and bread.” says the Major. “And in winter, once a week we have a night feed in the city’s centre.”
The Goodwill Centre means so much to the residents, “We’re made to feel welcome,” says Arie. “Yes, we’re so grateful for The Salvation Army’s support here,” echoes another.
A pensioner, Julia Dreyer (64), had a really tough life before coming to the Centre 18 months ago. She was devastated when her youngest of four children was brutally murdered. In anger she blamed God for his death and lost faith. Then her husband died and her other son, the eldest, moved to New Zealand. Although she loves her two daughters, she cannot live with either. When she was employed, she had independence − until the company she worked for closed down and she found herself jobless.
At the Centre, Julia started helping in the kitchen. “I’ve always loved cooking and God opened my heart to feeding the masses,” she says. “I’m happy here it is my healing. The people are my family. Major Stafford, Major Holmes and Antoinette, our manager, are earth angels. They have helped me realise without God’s grace I am nothing.”
With the welcome support of the Benoni community, local business and caring service clubs − and the income from our charity shop − the Benoni Goodwill Centre will continue to provide a much-needed service to those in need.