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Those two little words ‘More please’ instantly conjure up the picture of a tragic, starving little boy begging for food.
Created by Charles Dickens in 1837, the boy was, of course, Oliver Twist – a boy brought up in the appalling conditions of a workhouse and, when still a child, sold to a career criminal and taught to pick-pocket. No one captured the poverty, the degradation and misery of the times like Charles Dickens.
How often do we thank God that we live in an enlightened age? But just how enlightened are we? If you were to accompany any Salvation Army soup kitchen team one winter’s day, you may well weep at the conditions in which so many thousands of South Africans are now living – black and white, young and old. Throughout our land, the poverty, degradation and squalor are as bad as in the days of Dickens.
Who are these people subjected to a life of such misery? Many have been born into poverty. Many have been heartlessly abandoned as babies. And what ghastly circumstance has forced a mother to abandon the infant she, has felt growing within her for all those months? Many mentally impaired have been left to fend for themselves because they’ve become a burden to those who are supposed to care. There are kids who’d rather brave life on the streets than put up any more with the abuse in their homes. And more and more families who have known good times now find themselves on the ever-growing junk-heap of jobless because of retrenchment? Nobody chooses poverty.
Hunger is the most devastating aspect of poverty. It gnaws away at the insides. It blunts the senses. And diminishes a human’s capacity to think. Add the bitter cold of winter and every living creature’s debilitation is complete.
Hopefully you have never experienced real hunger. But I’m sure you have at least once been caught under-prepared for a sudden icy change in the weather. Think of that now, and imagine having to live with that cold day after day, month after month. Going to bed frozen to the marrow in your bones, waking up with icicles on your eyelashes. Perhaps having to sleep outdoors, with only a newspaper for warmth.
Believe me these are the conditions we come across among thousands of our fellow South Africans across the country. And you’d be amazed at how grateful these poor people are for what little relief we are able to bring them, thanks to your open-hearted caring. How a hot mug of nourishing soup can not only relieve their hunger pangs but give them new energy and new hope. As for the gift of a blanket … that is indeed recognised as a gift from God. Most surprising is their gratitude that somebody cares.
Precisely when The Salvation Army started our first soup kitchens – now as famous for our blankets as our soup – is no longer important. What counts is that now, each winter we give desperately-needed nourishment – sometimes literally life-saving – to over half a million people, and distribute more than 100 000 blankets. Our large, portable canteens, delivering bubbling-hot home-made soup, draw the destitute in their hordes, from the streets of the most unsavoury parts of our cities, from the slums of crime-ridden townships like Mannenberg – a coloured township in the Cape, where we regularly feed about 200, including some 80 children. And from low-cost ‘housing’ – a small tin shack with no means of heating, an outside toilet and communal outside fires for cooking – when there’s food to cook!
Without trepidation, our teams of ‘mercy givers’ brave the elements and the roughest characters, bringing cheer and hope through Christian love. And the poverty-stricken come in their droves and they queue quietly while waiting their turn. There is peace. And a spiritual calm that goes beyond the physical relief from cold and hunger, which you make possible through your generous support of The Salvation Army.
But our soup kitchens are only part of The Salvation Army’s efforts to bring a touch of humanity and summery warmth to those whose very souls are chilled. Shelters spread around the country provide some 5 000 homeless people with welcome little havens where they can escape the wind, the cold and the rain – and get some basic, hot food.
I think back to the dark days of Oliver Twist and marvel at the irony of the fact that today’s generations no longer read about his times but are kept abreast of his sad story through the modern musical Oliver! And sometimes when helping out at one of our soup kitchens, I get the feeling that, in their happiness, those receiving God’s bounty are about to burst into one of the show’s songs – Food, Glorious Food.
Thank you for helping to make it all possible, especially in these extremely difficult times. Your gift will mean more to The Salvation Army than you may ever know. May God’s blessings on you be abundant.
Major Carin Holmes
Public Relations Secretary
Southern Africa Territory
PS: While your contribution is absolutely vital, perhaps other members of your family have some no-longer-wanted warm clothing they’d be happy to pass on. Anything, for any age, will be gratefully accepted. Just give us a call to get your nearest drop-off point.