As the only man on the permanent staff at the Service Dining Rooms, you might think that Joshua Jacobs (known fondly to everyone as Shorty) is like a thorn tree in a rose garden, but after eight years he takes his role very seriously.
“We can’t be in a situation where people don’t listen to us and do whatever they want, so I have to be alert and protect the staff as well as doing my job – but when I do have to deal with a challenging person, I do so in a nice way. We all need to listen to each other.”
Shorty leaves home at 05h35 every morning to get to work on time, meeting up with two other staff members on the way so they don’t have to walk alone to reach public transport. And in between daily chores, he finds time to nurture a tiny flower garden at the back: cyclamens, begonias and peace lilies.
Thank you, Shorty, for looking out for us and for tending to your plants. We can never have too much green!
This article in an American newspaper about a homeless man, Bill Bloxham, is so shocking that it should make you feel physically ill.
We know there is violence the world over (seemingly more and more every day), and the daily news often has the effect of numbing us to the horror of each and every incident – from a terrorist attack to a family axe murder to domestic abuse and rape. Too many people are unable to protect themselves from too many others.
My reason for posting this article about Bill Bloxham is to highlight the huge risk of vulnerability which homeless people have no choice but to endure. It exists for people in Cape Town and Johannesburg just as much as for people in Winston-Salem and Kathmandu and London and New York. A homeless person is treated differently to someone with material effects, decent clothes and a listed address. We all do it, consciously or not, in one form or another.
Before we try to stop perpetuating these prejudices, we have to acknowledge that they lie within our own selves. When was the last time you paid attention to the homeless man you see every day trying to sell necklaces at the traffic lights? When did you last give food to the woman with a small child who comes to your gate? Ask yourself, when and how did they get so unlucky? and since when do you have the right to judge?
Please meet Nozuko Klaas, our very capable and cheerful Kitchen Assistant, who has been with us for four years.
Nozuko gives her current job the thumbs-up for a variety of reasons: the other staff members are friendly and helpful, the hours are very manageable and a five-day week beats working in a restaurant, like she used to. She says “Working with homeless people has opened my eyes to their problems, and I can see they didn’t choose this life. We can be proud to be a place where we can help a bit with their circumstances.”
Nozuko has two children who live with her mother so they can be close to school, and she also looks after her niece’s 2-year old daughter while employment opportunities are scarce.
Filleting some fresh hake – maybe not her most favourite chore? “I don’t mind, I like working with food and learning new things, filleting fish is all part of a normal day!”
Thank you, Nozuko, for your steady performance, adaptability and energy. We are lucky to have you on our team.
Regina Philander, experienced cook at the Service Dining Rooms for over seven years, has more than enough know-how to help keep our kitchens running very smoothly indeed. A quiet and patient woman but seldom without a smile on her face, she appears to handle her work days with calmness and composure.
“The staff, including the volunteers, generally work well together, so that is not a difficult challenge. Sometimes it’s stressful when a fight breaks out among our clients, but we can rely on Karen and Shorty and each other to deal with problems. We don’t feel unsafe here because we are part of a team”.
You’d think Regina would see enough of the inside of a kitchen during the week to give it a break when she’s not at work, but she still lists her personal interests as cooking, as well as sewing, knitting and crochet. (Turns out she and this blog writer have a lot in common – with the exception of the cooking, that is…). She leaves home at 5.45 to get to work on time, but weekends are for relaxing, hobbies, family and church.
Thank you, Regina, for your dependability and resourcefulness. The SDR couldn’t achieve what it does without you.
Masooda Petersen has been the Kitchen Manager at the Service Dining Rooms for over four years now, and leaves home just before 06h00 every day so she can get to work on time. She says she doesn’t ever want to be late because there are always hungry people waiting, and she doesn’t want to disappoint them.
What makes Masooda’s work worthwhile for her is that she loves cooking, and especially likes having to be creative with whatever ingredients are available on a particular day. “We don’t always know what kind of donations we are going to receive, so we have to be flexible. I like making something from nothing.”
She is responsible for three permanent staff and the volunteers who help in the kitchen. “One of the best things about my job now is that the Operations Manager [Karen] actually works with us, we feel we are all part of a team.” Karen herself told me that, when she had to go on leave recently to visit her elderly father in Johannesburg, she could relax about what might or might not be happening at SDR because she knew that she’d left things in good hands 🙂
Masooda makes great breyani. Ask me, I’ve had some! Now I just need the recipe…
This article by Maxwell Roeland was published recently by Groundup, a news agency focused on reporting news that is in the public interest, with an emphasis on the human rights of vulnerable communities. It’s about stories and news that make a difference.
This is of particular interest to the Service Dining Rooms, where we see homeless people every day without access to basic facilities and any kind of private or safe space.
What are your thoughts about the City of Cape Town’s implementation of this concept?
Is a job just a job? Or is a job more than a “job” for some of us?
There are five permanent staff members at the Service Dining Rooms, and each one is going to take the opportunity to think about and express what it means to him or her to work for an NGO, and the SDR in particular.
I’m starting with Karen Cain, the Operations Manager since March 2017, because it was over coffee with her this afternoon that the idea of talking about what make’s one job meaningful could be both productive and interesting.
Karen has worked as a social worker for 24 years. With her new post at the Service Dining Rooms, she’s taken on a more managerial role (with all the fun additional administrative responsibilities that come with it!), and yet still finds the time to be involved with the daily serving of meals. She is very proud of the staff, and says it would be difficult to work as part of the team if each member didn’t work as hard as they do, putting effort and thought into preparing a nutritious meal for their many clients, every day.
‘There’s also the matter of helping people who are going through hard times – for example, not only do we offer coffee, rolls and a cooked meal, but there’s a proper and decent place for them to sit at a table to eat instead of on the pavement or under a tree. When it rains, they can come inside for shelter and warmth.”
Karen says that the SDR is also becoming known in Cape Town as a beacon of safety: when a woman was attacked on the street round the corner, she was brought to the SDR for help; when an abandoned baby was found in the centre of town, Captain January from the local police station brought her to Karen; a man looking for his long-lost brother calls in three or four times a week to see if he has turned up there; and when a young woman with her small child was kicked out of her home by her abusive husband, her friends took her to Karen, who ran her a hot bath, gave her fresh clothes and a meal, and helped arrange safe temporary accommodation. “It’s about helping people retain a sense of personal dignity, which is empowering [for them]. We also now have a (free) HIV testing and TB screening mobile service twice a week, and clients who make use of those services also receive a free meal.”
Does the job have any kind of negative or stressful impact on her life? “We open up at 7.00am and finish at 2.00pm, so even though it’s an early start the day is manageable and I still have time to attend to my own domestic and family matters. I do, all of us do, get tired because working with a huge number of people every day can be very draining. We have to find ways of doing things that work well for everyone, so there are often challenges.”
Next week I’ll be talking to Masooda Petersen, the Kitchen Manager.
Jeffery M—–, below left, regularly comes to the Service Dining Rooms for meals. He has lived on the streets of Cape Town for longer than he can remember, and says he has few complaints about life. He proudly showed me the photograph that Frank Schönau had taken of him, and whose work had just been on exhibition ** at the Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West:
** Frank Schönau’s photography is still available for viewing in Cape Town, at THK Photography in the Cape Quarter, 27 Somerset Road, Green Point (the gallery entrance is on Dixon Street, and the opening hours are Tuesdays to Fridays 10h00 – 18h00.)
There’s a wonderful article about Jo Maxwell in the People’s Post (22 August 2017), a Pinelands resident who, at 79, says she finds meaning in life by helping the less fortunate in and around Cape Town.
We are exceptionally fortunate to be one of Jo’s charity projects because she runs a large number of projects that benefit people at risk. She is a champion fundraiser, an eternal optimist, and one of the most vibrant, energetic people you could ever hope to meet!
“I feel I must do something that will change someone’s life every day. That makes me feel complete. I treat my projects like a business, and put all my effort into them”, she told Nomzamo Yuku from the People’s Post.
Jo has found herself nominated as a finalist in the People’s PostSpec Savers Community Champions Elders Awards for 2017. Where would the world be without people like Jo, the other finalists and, indeed, anyone who gives up their time voluntarily towards helping others? Have you done anything in the last few days for someone you don’t know, out of pure generosity of spirit?
“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” ― John Holmes
During the week of 17 to 21 July last month, around Nelson Mandela Day, we experienced an abundance of generosity from individuals and organisations in our community. None of these people expect to be mentioned here, but we think a public expression of gratitude is warranted (the list is in no particular order):
Staff of Retail Capital in Newlands (provided soup and sandwiches)
Staff of Medpages in Riebeeck Street (delivered over 400 sandwiches)
Staff of the Legal Services Branch of the Department of the Premier (delivered and served over 400 sandwiches)
Jo Maxwell (donated toiletry packs, food packs, and fresh vegetables)
Staff of I&J (delivered chicken mayonnaise sandwiches – above and beyond the regular donations from the company)
South Point Accommodation in Darling Street, Cape Town (for repairing and painting the dining room, bathroom and office at no charge)
Natalie Spirus (donated beanies and scarves made by herself and a group of friends)
My Citi (provided breakfast sandwiches for three days in a row)
Katie at Source Food in Loop Street (provided curry and rice)
Staff of Themis Law Chambers in Roeland Square (donated tea, coffee and creamer; socks for the sock drive, sanitary pads, and their time in serving meals)
Staff of BP Head Office (delivered and served soup for 400 people)
Nihaal and colleagues from Woolworths Adderley Street (donated 67 beautifully packed toiletry bags).
You have been blessed with kind and thoughtful hearts. Thank you.