Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cape Town Christmas Dinner

January 12, 2009

Dear Friends and Family:

Many of you know that one of the missions of our church here in Cape Town is to feed the homeless on the street each Sunday. From Monday through Saturday most homeless can beg monies from the tourists and are fed at a few low cost feeding facilities, but on Sunday most of the shops close down and there is no place for them to go. Our friend John started this food ministry 33 years ago, then feeding 15 people each week. This last Sunday, we fed over 160 people, literally on the street: a cup of soup, a sandwich, and apples; for them a very good meal. This food is brought in by individuals in the church who want to help. And they have been doing it each week for over 25 years, a monumental effort in a society where the average wage is still
approximately R2500 per month ($250). Each week, our small part is to provide soup or fruit as needed and to go out on the street, into the parks and sometimes under the bridges of Cape Town to distribute the food.

When Floyd and I arrived here in December, the ladies of the church were preparing to feed the homeless a Christmas dinner. Thanks to a donation of $200 from Southminster Presbyterian, our Glen Ellyn church, the ladies were able to purchase the meat for the meal, plus some “goodies” for each of the homeless to take with them: a toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, soap, tinned meat, and a bit of candy.

The picture on the right shows the Women’s Circle putting together the “goodie” bags. Note the tinned meat in the foreground, a special treat.

120 homeless were invited to the dinner. Since we could only squeeze 85 chairs into the small room in the church office building, not all were actually able to sit at a table or even in the same room. Some had to be fed on the street and in the corridors. This always presents a problem. We fill the back row of seats first, no tables, against the wall with their food in the window sills, then the farthest seat at the table, and the next, and so on, with no spaces because once you are in, there is no room to get out.

That was the scene at the top of the stairs: quiet, orderly, peaceful. It was an entirely different story at the front door. We were collecting invitations and sending groups of ten at a time up the stairs. That went reasonably well until the upper room approached capacity. The remaining crowd began to sense they might not get food (which wasn’t true) and desperation settled onto the people. They began to surge through the glass doors and onto the stairs. Five of us tried to physically restrain them but the wave of silent humanity continued. Floyd relates fearing someone would be trampled and is not sure how or why the push ended but somehow it did. Not many of us have ever been that desperate – it brought a new dimension to hunger.

The food was beautiful. The ladies did a spectacular job. Chicken is the meat of choice in Africa, and there was some chicken, a thin slice each of beef and ham, potato, spaghetti, curried rice, and for the veggie, beetroot. For dessert, there was malva pudding and ice cream. This is a typical South African Christmas dinner. We were so thankful to be able to give them dinner size plates of food. Last year there was only enough for small bowls.

Even those that had to eat outside enjoyed the feast. Hopefully next year we will actually be able to get the permits needed to put tables and chairs outside on the Square where there is more room. All would then be able to sit together.

There were a lot of very happy people that day, grateful to be remembered. Again thanks to our friends at Southminster and to my sister Sue for her support in helping to fund this effort. Have a great 2009.

One additional anecdote related to our mission that day. A film crew was shooting scenes involving Formula 1 cars on the street ½ block away. One of those involved witnessed our efforts to help the hungry. She was so touched that she went to the rest of the film crew, collected money, and brought it to us to help future efforts. It brought tears to our eyes and joy to our hearts.

Love to all,

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