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Being part of The Salvation Army soup kitchen team on a mid-winter’s night on the Highveld is a humbling experience. To actually meet many of the homeless human beings of our country and seeing how they live their tragic lives is a shock.
On a recent icy Thursday night we were in Benoni where we met a surprising cross-section of the homeless. There were kids – so many kids! – who’ve been abandoned. Mothers with their children who’ve suffered the same fate. There were single, young and old, many who’ve never had a chance. And there were former successful people who’ve been emotionally crippled by some traumatic event that’s left them down and out. Each is living a tragic life.
And in Benoni the sad, decaying state of our country was brought home to us. Admittedly we were in the sleaziest part, but street lights were so few the gloom added to the sense of danger and depression.
Showing that someone cares
The two Salvation Army trucks brought hope. One had a massive pot of piping hot meat and vegetable soup and a huge basketful of bread, the other was stacked with blankets. Before we set out we thanked the Lord in a short prayer for enabling us, with your support, to bring sustenance to these people.
Our first stop was the police station where a number of homeless waited for this meal. “It’s probably their first and only meal today,” commented our leader, Major Stafford. You could feel their excitement as we handed out the hot soup, bread and the blankets. Their sincere gratitude, expressed again and again, was soul-stirring.
Lizelle* (32), told us she’d fallen on hard times and this was her first night on the streets. Clothed in a ‘hoodie’ and thin pants, she was cold and frightened. She’d chosen to sleep outside the police station for safety. Tearfully she thanked us for the food and blanket, now her most treasured possession.
Innocence* (29) had been on the streets for five years. He dreams of getting a job gardening or painting but confirms there is no work out there. He claims our soup is ‘the best’.
We stopped where a small group of young people was standing round a fire and gave them our soup, bread and blankets. It was also their only meal that day.
Three other young people we spoke to were smiling broadly, already wrapped in their warm blankets. Nico* (25), a qualified plumber who came from Limpopo in search of work, sleeps in the taxi rank, while Lucky* (24) is also jobless and lives in a Daveyton shack. Maxwell*, also jobless, proudly tells us he has a matric and is a qualified security guard.
All their stories are heart-breaking. Imagine seeking work in tattered clothing. Losing touch with your families. Being robbed at night of what little you have. Of sleeping under bridges, in doorways, in the park. None was employed, but all were trying not to lose hope. They genuinely welcomed The Salvation Army’s hand up.
For the homeless, winter is the cruellest season – and for The Salvation Army the busiest. Soup runs are held throughout the country, once or twice a week – in Benoni every week day. Apart from preparing and delivering the sustenance from our mobile kitchens, we also collect and deliver warm clothing.
“Tonight we gave out 120 blankets, mugs of soup and bread,” Major Stafford said quietly on the way home. “The residents at the Benoni Family Centre make enough soup to also serve it with bread to the hungry who come to our gates every winter weekday.”
To help the poor all over South Africa – black, white, old, young – we thank God for The Salvation Army, and your continued and generous response to our appeals for your support. The homeless of our country do know they have a home in your heart.
Major Carin Holmes
Public Relations Secretary
Southern Africa Territory
PS: With the Benoni streets being so dark, it was not possible to get the kind of photographs that would clearly show you our beneficiaries reaction to the soup, bread and blankets. You would find their expressions of relief and gratitude so uplifting you too would smile.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.