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As an icy wind slices through the exposed flesh of those too poor to afford clothing suitable for the bitter Cape winter, we appreciate the full force of that little prayer.
Despite the freeze, there’s a happy vibe among the gathering crowd, mainly children, queuing for some desperately-needed sustenance from The Salvation Army. Many kids are barefoot, some are in shorts, all clothes are threadbare. Yes, indeed, these people are incredibly thankful for what they are about to receive.
The venue is Manenberg Corps (church) where 200 will be fed a lunch − probably their only meal for the day. When the gates open, the kids, who are fed first, rush into the relative warmth of the hall. They genuinely enjoy singing and ‘acting out’ the devotions and songs of praise, led by Cherlena Thomasso, a Candidate of Manenberg Corps, who also shares a Bible story with them.
Sincere and heart-warming gratitude
When Major Lorna Fillies says grace, the children humbly bow their heads, close their eyes, and clasp their hands tightly as they pray: “Thank you God for this food and for our many blessings.” After gobbling down their nourishing bowls of hot rice and mince, each child repeats a heartfelt “Thank you Major, thank you ‘aunty’, thank you…” Their gratitude is deeply touching. Can a warm meal really mean so much? The clamour for seconds, and not a speck of leftovers, show that these kids were starving.
That night about 130 of the poorest in Athlone had their food treat. Three huge pots of piping hot soup and a table laden with loaves of bread helped satisfy their hunger. “In May we started our feeding programme,” says Lieut. Teddy Memani of Athlone Corps. “At first we fed about 60 people and it’s just mushroomed.” About 85% of people in this area are unemployed, while drugs, alcohol and gangs are rife.
Teach a man to fish
“We are blessed,” comments Lieut. Teddy “We have a very dedicated team of volunteers, including many young people. They help make and serve the meal, then clean up afterwards. These beneficiaries are very poor and I dream of making them self-sufficient. They need to be taught skills that will enable them to make things that they can sell and so earn a living.” As the saying goes ‘Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. Give him a fish and you feed him once’.
Their stories are usually tragic. Arlene Jacobs* (31) has been on the streets for two years. Unqualified to do a specific job, for years she has battled to find work. She lived with her mother and step-father but when her mother died, the step-father threw her out. She sleeps under a bridge and is most thankful for the food, blankets and clothing The Salvation Army gave her.
“Life would be better if only I could find work,” she sighs. “I’m not lazy. I’ll do anything − even clean toilets.” She spends her days knocking on doors and firmly believes in the adage: ‘Seek and ye shall find’. Sadly she admits that “I’d like to come to church but I don’t have decent clothes and I don’t smell nice. The hardest thing about being homeless is the cold. You simply can’t imagine how much a hot meal and a blanket mean to me.”
We all tend to forget just how hard life is for so many people in our country. We don’t know how, despite their daily suffering, their most abysmal living conditions, there’s still hope in their hearts. They still bow their heads in prayer, and give thanks for the simplest kindness, like a hot meal.
At The Salvation Army we daily give thanks for our own special blessings − our volunteers and people like you who care enough to support The Salvation Army, and whose compassion inspires us to fulfil our mission of: ‘Heart to God – hand to man’. To echo the poorest Thank you, thank you, thank you.
May God bless you
Major Carin Holmes
Public Relations Secretary
Southern Africa Territory
PS: I cannot stress just how grateful those poverty-ravaged people are for the humblest meal or thinnest blanket. Your contribution to our national feeding and blanket programmes could well save lives this winter.
*Name changed to protect identity.