Corona for Change

Is it really only a fortnight since the world changed completely?

A couple of weeks before that schools closed, sports events were cancelled and poetry evenings abandoned, in an attempt to prevent people gathering and spreading the Corona Virus.  Here, just a few of the many and varied Midlands initiatives to cope with the challenges faced by vulnerable people under Lockdown, are shared. 

Action in Isolation

Robyn Gruijters, who lives in the Midlands has worked with rural communities, particularly schools, in a variety of different ways over the past decade.  Instinctively she knew that closing schools would mean hungry children. It is well known that many children rely on the school feeding schemes for their daily meal.

Robyn tells the story, “I thought that I would speak to a few friends, ask them to prepare soup and sandwiches, arrange to have these delivered to a central point and then distributed to kids who needed them. What happened after the first requests for help went out, was nothing short of a miracle!” Suddenly everyone wanted to help.  Money, fresh produce, ready-made meals, potential contacts – all started rolling in.

To begin, the plan was to feed the children in Zenzane Village, near Balgowan and in Lidgetton, near Lions River, but things soon gathered a momentum of their own.  Now there are 7 feeding areas in Lidgetton Village; Crystal Springs Primary in Lidgetton, Zenzane Village in Balgowan, Ntuli Block Rosetta, Lions River, Sthendeni in Nottingham Road, Fort Nottingham, Karkloof and Bruntville in Mooi River, feeding over 1000 children in a variety of ways.  

By the time Lockdown arrived, Robyn was able to put together 180 food parcels for distribution to families. Then, activists in communities from slightly further afield began sharing the needs in their areas, and ideas on how to solve them, and the Midlands Relief Network emerged under the Action in Isolation umbrella.

Robyn has been thrilled at all the organisations working together on a strategy to manage the problem, deftly allocating team leaders, getting permits for those who are doing deliveries, forging partnerships with new sponsors to help even more people and still shopping for food parcels!   She is a true hero in this tale. “Hungry children are desperate children and we are doing what we can to try and alleviate the need. We cannot do it all and we won’t always get it right, but we can start somewhere and feed those we can,” she concludes.

Learn more about Action in Isolation and how you can help here. Money is very helpful.

Supporting Slow Gardeners

In the days before Lockdown, Lindiwe Phikwane, who is spokesperson for the Slow Food Community iMbokhodo KZN Women Farmers, delivered 1000 veggie seedlings (beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, red cabbage, cauliflower, thyme, kale, leeks, onion, spinach spring onion) to women gardeners in Mpophomeni, Mafakathini, kwaMgwagwa. “Time was so short. We cannot help people start new gardens under Lockdown, so we thought that by supporting those who are already gardening we would improve their gardens and their ability to assist others in their community in future.”   The objectives of this group of women are to support women farmers in urban and rural areas, to inspire future female farmers, to conserve and promote traditional farming knowledge and preserve traditional food and culture.

Seedlings were sponsored by sales of Mnandi – a taste of Mpophomeni, a recipe book celebrating the cooks and gardeners of Mpophomeni township, with seasonal ideas for making the most of abundant beetroot, spinach or pumpkin available at this time, and a section on imifino (wild greens), to help you identify nutritious free food. All very useful information, particularly during Lockdown.

Midlands Food Bank

With Lockdown looming, Riaz Nakooda from Mama’s Chickens based in Lidgetton connected with Debra Clarke who was already feeding a few destitute families in the area. His idea was to get locals to rally round to assist the wider Lidgetton community. On 15 April, farmers and businesspeople met, formed a committee for the Midlands Food Bank and opened a bank account – absolutely determined to rise to this challenge and feed as many hungry bellies as was possible.   Working with the local councillor to identify beneficiaries, the aim is to feed as many families as possible in and around Lidgetton for the next 4 to 6 months. Using the Mamma’s Chicken Warehouse as a base for donations and distribution, the group has already raised goods to the value of R250 000. 

Debra Clarke says, “To date we have fed over 700 families. We will leave no woman or child behind. We also hand out parcels to the informal settlement, where many foreigners live, as hunger does not know boundaries.”

The vision of this fledgling NPO is to alleviate poverty, especially during Covid-19 and continue to support community development initiatives in Lidgetton and surrounding areas.

The community is deeply appreciative of the help that landowners and businesses are providing and spontaneously came together to clean up of the streets and verges. Community activist, Felix Zuma who started Volunteers of Lidgetton in 2012 comments “It was very dirty, so instead of sitting around now that we are all at home, we thought we must also play our part. The guys brought their brush cutters and every day we have more people joining us to clean up the village.”  The VOL motto is ‘Problems become Opportunities when the Right People Work Together.’ 

Cash donations will be gratefully received and can be made into the following bank account: Lidgetton Food Bank, Standard Bank, Howick, Acc No: 10130945127 Ref: Your Name.  Those who are willing to donate, assist with packing, distribution or want further information, should contact Debra on 0647342297

Veg for the Vulnerable

The community of KZN Midlands sprang into action to get food to vulnerable people under Lockdown. Gregg Oosthuizen, who is chef/owner of Sagewood Cafe and Elephant & Co in Pietermaritzburg is a member of Slow Food Community of KZN Midlands Supporters, was quick to act. Gregg serves ethical, seasonal, organic food at his restaurants, even though customers are not always interested in the provenance. “Sagewood Cafe has always been rooted in sustainable living – about making conscious choices of the actions we take and the resources we use. Much of what we need at the Cafe is lovingly grown in our very own Sagewood gardens in Hilton. During this lockdown period, it’s been a joy to spend more time in the gardens. With the restaurants shut down and the economy at a standstill, my gardens have provided abundance, opportunity and food security, not to mention the daily joy and gratitude of living in harmony with nature.” He harvested veggies that were ready to eat and delivered to NPO African Spirit that is involved with the Shiyabazali informal settlement perched on the edge of the uMngeni River valley beside the Howick Falls. Shiyabazali lacks services of any kind. The community is very vulnerable, with many relying on casual daily labour for income. At least 100 hungry children arrive at African Spirit each week for a meal. Lockdown is, of course, disastrous.

Judy Smit and Teddy Masopha received the produce with delight, knowing what a difference it would make when the caregivers in the community collected it for distribution this afternoon. Gregg was inspired by their work and the people he met and is adamant that, when we get back to the ‘new normal’ we need to change how we work for the future, first and foremost creating more food gardens and sharing skills. “I look forward to connecting with this crew again. Our intention has always been to integrate our food gardens, with the restaurant and with the community. Business models have got to change, the time is now.”

Wheelbarrows Laden with Love and Good Food

Pregnant mothers in Shiyabazali could not believe their eyes when care worker, Theresa Shano arrived with her wheelbarrow bearing fresh vegetables to assist them during lockdown this weekend. 

Shiyabazali is an informal settlement where the women famously do their laundry in the rock pools above the 97m high Howick Falls.   

As lockdown descended, Howick residents concerned about the plight of this community, sprang into action.  Touchwood Veggies, a popular local grocer, was offering to deliver veg boxes to homes during this time.  So, it made perfect sense to sponsor a veg box (R100) for delivery to those in need at the same time. The system was simple, order a box (or two) from Cayleigh Holgate at Touchwood, pay by eft and Cayleigh, who has a permit to deliver food during lockdown, would get the food to African Spirit for distribution. Touchwood grows a lot of their produce on a farm nearby, and sources produce from other local growers as well, so not only are donors feeding hungry folk, but also assisting a small business to keep going during and making sure that local farmers are able to sell their produce.  African Spirit can continue doing what they do best – reaching out, showing love and care to this community and using the connections they have made over many years to ensure that those who need it the most receive assistance.  It provides a simple way for residents of Howick to assist in getting good, fresh, nutritious food to vulnerable people.

The idea caught on like wildfire and thousands of rand of veggies were ordered within a couple of days.  Crates, bags and boxes of cabbages, carrots, butternuts, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, brinjals, marrows, onions and peppers were delivered on the first Friday for African Spirit volunteers, wearing masks and gloves and keeping good distances, to sort and distribute. “Our caregivers know which families need it the most,” said Judy, “it has been a pleasure to be able to send such delicious, healthy food out knowing that everyone will be sharing with their neighbours, eating well for a couple of days and building their strength.” Teddy added, “The Howick community has pulled together brilliantly. We would like to thank everyone who has done something to light up someone’s life during these difficult times. We had someone deliver lots of lovely handmade masks, another brought us two loaves of bread, someone baked biscuits, our favourite dance teacher dropped off many kilos of maize meal and a farmer delivered bags of organic meaty bones. Every contribution makes a difference.”  

As laden wheelbarrows trundled across the bridge to Shiyas and along the road from kwaMevana, tired volunteers chatted about how strange it had been not to embrace everyone as they usually would,  how this unusual situation was highlighting just what a perilous state so many people live in, and marvelling at the generosity of strangers.

As expected, recipients were very grateful. “You are saving lives with this food,” community worker Zama Mncube enthused, “you have done such a good job.  I love you so much.”

Will you be contributing to filling another barrow next week?  Send Cayleigh Holgate (083 321 9181) a message ordering 1 (or more) veg boxes at R100 for the Shiyas programme, then pay by eft with Shiyas and your name as the reference.  Repeat this next week as well, and the next…

Or donate directly to African Spirit – Capitec 1474993719 – for dry goods, dog food, hot meals, electricity vouchers, toiletries and seedlings.

Angels Who Care

Angels Care Centre in Howick has been feeding hundreds of children every day for years. Their Crisis Care Centre provides a refuge for victims of domestic violence, gender-based violence and any other abuse and neglect. The Centre also has two community caregivers who are well connected in the surrounding communities, assisting vulnerable families wherever possible.  Lockdown regulations provided a new challenge for providing services to children and the community. Clearly, authorities didn’t want children wandering in the streets, or clustering together in order to receive food and care. Carolyn Hancock and her dedicated team, determined to keep feeding the little ones, altered their system to accommodate new regulations during the lockdown period, “Instead of bowls of warm food, we are handing out paper bags with sandwiches, fruit, yoghurt and packets of porridge that they can mix with hot water at home for breakfast.” Queues are now orderly, with 1,5 metre marks to ensure social distancing is adhered to in the informal settlements and recipients of weekly family food parcel carry an Angels Care branded slip with their name to show to anyone who questions where they are going.

Of course, when money is scarce for food, that means it is also short for buying fuel to cook. Understanding this, Angels Care Centre secured a donation of Wonderbags (add link) to assist families in informal settlements to prepare meals with less energy. 

Wonderbags are ideal for soups and stews, rice, beans and curries – food that usually cooks long and slow. Prepare your dish as you would on the stove top, add less liquid than usual as none is lost during cooking, bring to the boil and after a few minutes (you will learn how to judge the right amount of time – longer for chicken, less for a veggie curry), pop the lid on and place into the Wonderbag on top of a dishcloth, put the cushion over the pot, draw up the sides and tie closed.  Freeing up time, as well as providing a safer environment for families and children as less fires will need to be made in confined spaces surrounded by wooden shacks. It retains heat for up to 12 hours with no worry about burning the food.

Carolyn Hancock, Chairperson of Angel’s Care Centre, “We want to ensure that all children stay as physically and mentally healthy as possible and have access to care in times of crisis and possible abuse. The Covid-19 crisis has brought together all the role payers in our community to find solutions to the deep social issues we face.”

Angels Care is appealing for donations of sanitary products, nappies, tinned food, clothing etc as well as food for parcels. Donations can be dropped off at the Centre in Morling Street between 8am and 4.30pm or alternatively one can donate straight into the bank account, details can be found on the website

Gogo Olga

When Olga retired in 2007 she decided that that was the last day she would hear a hungry child crying and started the Sizanani Feeding Scheme.  She and a small group of volunteers feed over 100 orphans and needy children in Mpophomeni every day.  To assist during the lockdown period, when even more people need food, Mnandi has sponsored fresh vegetables and cooking gas so that she can continue her efforts.  Olga burst into tears when the supplies arrived. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. We are so grateful for the help as we have been using our pension grants towards the food. There are many people who are sick, as well as the children that we will help with this food.”

Knowing that, even if your stomach is full, it is very difficult to grow up without getting love, Olga offers a shoulder to cry on and listens to the stories that the children have to tell.  She knows, as well as we do, that the hunger will not end when Lockdown ends, so is hoping that the support will continue.  Olga is featured on page 130 of Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni, so Team Mnandi will be assisting to support her cause.   Contact for ways you can contribute.

Meals for Mpophomeni

Also in Mpophomeni – Ethembeni, Action in Isolation and Oasis Church facilitated deliveries of food parcels to care workers.  Thunyiwe Zondi was so pleased with the 32 food parcels that she will be able to give to the pregnant mothers that she supports.   Funda Nenja sorted out food parcels (and dog food) for needy families in their network and are supplying 8kg bags of dog food to anyone from the community when they come for their food parcel. A special delivery was made to the Inkanyiso Day Care Centre which cares for 19 disabled adults, despite government support having dried up. “I would like to send my gratitude for what you have done. The food parcels arrived today, and we have already has managed to distribute some nearby.” Thandi Ntombela

Young people in Mpophomeni got together to start raising funds right away as they realised the need in their area would soon be great. Spokesperson for the uMngeni Relief Trust, Sabelo Xaba, “The lockdown is an extremely necessary measure for our country to embark upon.  This has caused a great disruption to the lives of our people, particularly poor, black people. A number of households will be unable to sustain their livelihoods, which will subsequently mean they will be subjected to extreme poverty.  Our Relief Fund hopes to assist these families to survive these difficult times.”  With the help of Merrivale Spar and Howick Meat Market, this group was able to assist dozens of people, way more than they had hoped to at first. Their focus was on child-headed households and those who live from hand to mouth. Should you wish to contribute to their mission please contact Ntokozo 073 492 3882 or Sabelo 081 231 1727


Tucked between the motorway and the railway line in Tweedie, is a small settlement of dwellings creatively built from scrap wood from the local pallet factory. While there are advantages to living close to the town of Howick, life without basic services is pretty challenging at the best of times.  Convid-19 and the Lockdown, meant that many sources of employment dried up and vulnerable people became even more desperate.  Gugu Mungwe, a young woman passionate about her community has become the champion of distributing food aid to the 17 elderly women who usually make a living by recycling (impossible under Lockdown), the unemployed and vulnerable children.

Lynne Garbutt of Tweedie Junction (a small shopping centre close by) and Dargle Conservancy set about supporting this community on their doorstep. To the basic provisions and toiletries, she added donations from local farmers – cabbages and butternuts from Manny Salgado and eggs from Kevin Barnsley.  Lynne has never been involved in anything like this before, but is using her corporate skills to get organised rapidly, raising funds as needed and making sure the produce gets to the right people.

Should you wish to support this community particularly, contact Lynne Garbutt 082 457 2583 or Caitlin Gilson 071 496 3542.

Sneeze Screens for SAPS

Knowing the difficult job that our police and health care workers are having at the moment, DA constituencies public representatives (Councillors and MPs) chipped in to purchase the sneeze screens to donate to all the clinics, saps and traffic in the area. Janis Holmes, “We ordered and paid for 100 and received 100 free so that should be ample. We are very worried about the shortage of masks particularly for those in essential services.”

Howick Hunger Busters

The Hunger Busters team of Love Howick community organisation are particularly concerned for the homeless street people in the cbd. Rob Askew and fellow volunteers have been distributing canned food, bread, fruit, veg, soap, etc on most days and is worried about their plight. “We need to build bridges between the SAPS, CPF, Traffic, Social Development, ward councillors, NPOs, churches and community. The current situation is a wonderful opportunity to engage with the homeless, to build hope and propel them into an incredible future. We are dealing with human beings who have a purpose and destiny in life.”

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

An extraordinary range of people from civil society have pitched in to help.  Some are plotting vulnerable areas on Google maps to ensure that no one is forgotten, others connecting to local councillors to ensure they know what is happening, some are collecting organic vegetables, others donating dog food, many are sewing masks, sharing simple ways to cope with the mental challenges of this time and delivering food parcels.  Everyone is reaching out and sharing what they have – skills, knowledge, time, produce. 

What You Can Do

Across the Midlands, Spar and Pick n’ Pay supermarkets have trolleys for shoppers to donate goods to the various initiatives, while you do your own shopping. You can also drop off at the central collection space at The Oasis Church in Howick between 9am and 12am on weekdays.

Donations made to uMngeni Relief Network will be used to buy food and other essentials to distribute.  The goal is to supply 2000 – 4000 food parcels per week through this Central Distribution to the releif efforts in the Midlands. Contact:  

Or you can assist the cause that speaks to your heart. That is probably the best one of all.

People do like to feel a connection to a cause when donating. It is all very well giving to a Government fund for general food help, but when you know your neighbour is involved in something, and you know someone who lives in a local community might be struggling, it is far easier.  

We should use this unique opportunity, to make connections at a neighbourhood level, to create clusters of support that become strong enough to help those further afield, and hopefully, once the current crisis has eased, to keep momentum going. We are never going back to ‘normal’.

What are you doing today?

5 principles of a just recovery:

  1. Put people’s health first, no exceptions.
  2. Provide economic relief directly to the people.
  3. Help workers and communities, not corporate executives.
  4. Create resilience for future crises.

Build solidarity and community across borders – don’t empower authoritarians. (thanks for these succinct points).


11 Comments Add yours

  1. Kim Ward says:

    Awesome Nikki!!
    I have shared widely and will choose some to support – any that you feel are especially needy to guide choices otherwise will go with a few heart-causes after chatting to Mike.
    Lots of lockdown love x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you would already have guessed that the fresh veggies for Shiyas is my favourite – for many reasons – besides getting actual nutritious fresh veggies to people. The gmo maize, tins and sugar relief parcels that are the norm, just don’t do it for me. Am delivering dog food there for tomorrow and next week starting sending veg seedlings for those who have gardens. But really, every contribution counts, wherever it goes. Thank you, lovely Kim.


  3. etheunissen says:

    What amazingly heartwarming initiatives. Well done to all involved and a special thank you to you Nikki for sharing!


  4. Judy Smit says:

    Nikki a BIG THANK YOU, from us at African Spirit, you were the fore runner and look where we are now. Your enthusiasm and kindness has brought food to hungry people, smiles on faces and leaps of joy when we distribute the food.


  5. Gillian Olivier says:

    I enjoyed to Nz just over 2 years ago and would like to help. There are about 80 000 South Africans here. Could you give me bank details for example for Angel’s Care whom I used to support, and the others. I could post it on the South Africans in NZ fb site.


    1. Hello Gillian, Thank you! Angel’s Care has an easy donation option on their website or you can donate to African Spirit (NPO 042 561) Capitec Bank Acc 1474993719 , or to Action in Isolation on their website Hope these are helpful. I would be very grateful if you shared the link to this story as I am sure everyone loves good news from home. Many thanks, Nikki


  6. naturebackin says:

    Thank you so much Nikki for compiling this list recording details of these inspirational community initiatives that bring crucial sustenance and hope to many, most especially in the current ongoing crisis. I will be referencing your article in my next blog post later this week. With very best wishes, Carol.


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