I’ve finally been in to visit with the folks at the Loaves and Fishes Network, but getting there was not easy. I had been given the street address: 9A Dyer. Craig and I were out running errands in the BMW before my appointment so he suggested we do a “test run”. The wisdom of this became readily apparent as we cruised down Dyer, past – in order – 35 Dyer, 2 Dyer, 9F Dyer, 16 Dyer, and finally pulled up at 5 Dyer. Stymied, Craig pulled out his phone and dialled LAFN. As he tried to explain the predicament, I let my gaze wander and directly above us, about 20 feet above the sidewalk, there was a Loaves and Fishes Network sign with an arrow. Sorted.
We arrive at 2:55pm, five minutes early. The office manager, Pateka, sits us down and gives us an extremely detailed and illuminating overview of the organization and their programs, followed by a tour of their space in East London. Loaves and Fishes – a non-denominational organization, but so named after the Bible story in recognition that there is enough for everyone – runs several programs, all designed to assist the children of the Eastern Cape who are affected by poverty, violence, and AIDS (PVA).
One of the things that strikes me immediately is the organizational recognition that it is essential to provide the kids with what they need developmentally, emotionally, and physically. In other words, LAFN does not simply drop off food parcels. To this they also take into account the provision of safe spaces with age-appropriate toys that stimulate the kids. They train care-givers (often young girls) in the communities on curricula that will provide education in various subjects, as well as in health issues. They have an eye to sustainability; the LAFN projects are designed to empower people within the communities they serve rather than to create scenarios of dependence.
And what about those food parcels? The LAFN feeding program (Children4Children) works in the spirit of the name of the organization: children bring food (like cooking oil, rice, sugar) to their schools and it is collected by LAFN. Volunteers re-package the bulk products into portions, and assemble boxes for distribution to the children in the townships. Each parcel has the basic items for one child per month. Occasionally, local businesses will donate products (overstock that might be expiring soon, for example) and in that month there will be additional items included. The idea is to redistribute what is already available, and it seems to be working well.
The LAFN space is a large warehouse which has been modified to include a couple of small offices. Most of the space is allocated to storage. There is a toy/books area where donated items are marked according to type (i.e. soft toys) and age group. This way it is easy to collect items for a care centre as needed. The parcel storage/assembly area takes up a good part of the floor. This is where food and other goods are broken down into the monthly per-child parcels. There is a list on the wall of the contents: Milk, Pilchards, Maize Meal, Rice, Samp, Sugar Beans, Baked Beans, Oil, Peanut Butter, Jam, Sugar, Soya Mince, Morvite, Soup, Soap. Beside this is a bank of shelving on which boxes of donated clothing sits. Each box is hand-marked for easy identification: women’s blouses, size 8-9; children’s shoes, size 4-5; winter hats. In the back, LAFN has a workshop/laundry. They wash all donated clothes in-house. The far wall has a clothesline strung from end to end where a dozen white shirts are drying. Under it, there is a work bench used for construction. Pateka shows me how a donated set of shelves has been modified into smaller units.
Two things strike me: the LAFN space is extremely organized; and nothing is wasted. The people working here are not working with a lot of budget or resources, but they have managed to implement some very successful programs.
We make an appointment for a second meeting, when I will meet Chairperson Dr. Trudy Thomas and discuss what I can do to help.