Building Community Partnerships – One at a Time

Robyn Gruijters tells of a feeding scheme in the Natal Midlands now reaching 1100 vulnerable children

Edited by Steuart Pennington

Following the first address by the President to the nation, I felt myself burdened, with a heavy heart and very concerned. Schools were to be closed and casual labour opportunities curtailed.

I’ve lived in the Midlands for almost 12 years and have worked with many of our local, rural communities, particularly in their schools, in a variety of different ways.

I knew what the initial Covid – 19 restrictions would mean for our communities:

  • No school.
    No work.
    No childcare.
    But mostly, no food.

Many of the children in our network are dependent on the nutrition programme run by the Department of Education. For some, it may be their only warm and nutritious meal. For others, their only meal. Period.

And so, a very simple and well-intended plan was born. I would speak to a few friends, ask them to prepare soup and sandwiches (in the comfort of their own homes and with their own kids) and arrange to have these delivered to a central point and then distributed.

What happened after the first requests for help went out, was nothing short of a miracle.

I asked.

People offered.

Many people, plenty of whom I did not know!

Community members, businesses, farmers, they all chipped in and gave what they could. Financial resources, fresh produce, prepared meals, a list of potential contacts, the list goes on!

I knew that in order for this initiative to have a vague chance of being successful, we would need the right people within the communities to effectively assess the need and distribute the food. At this stage, we had planned to feed the children in Zenzane Village, near Balgowan and in Lidgetton, near Lions River. We were clear that our mandate was vulnerable children in the communities within 20kms of us.

From there, and as so often happens in this caring country of ours, things gathered a momentum of their own!

To date, we have 7 feeding areas in Lidgetton Village; Crystal Springs Primary school in Lidgetton, Zenzane Village in Balgowan, Ntuli Block Rosetta, Lions River, Sthendeni settlement in Nottingham Road, and Bruntville in Mooi River, feeding 1100 children in a variety of ways. We are working closely with community health care workers and schools to ensure that the food gets to those who really need it.

Our impact rests largely on the generosity of donors and the hard work of those on the ground, a combination that ‘has come together’ in a typical South African way

Donations have come in a variety of ways:-

  • 4 tons of porridge, cabbages, broccoli, weekly deliveries of dairy, meat bones and even a whole cow!;
  • a fully paid for and hosted website to really up our appeals potential with integrated donation platforms for international donors.
  • Distribution of food coupled with education around hygiene, hand washing and keeping safe.
  • Detergents, sanitisers and hand wash are simple part of what is donated!

The Midlands Community has not only ‘shown up’ but knocked it out of the park!

When Covid- 19 Lockdown was officially declared on Thursday 26 March, it meant a significant change of tactic for us.

Within 2 days we had sourced and put together in excess of 180 food parcels, with sufficient to feed a family for 3 – 4 weeks. Included in these are soaps as well as a number of activity packs for one of our communities.

However, in two of our communities, food parcels were not an option. The concern being that parents would sell these to feed drug and alcohol addictions which cripple these communities. We are assisting in other ways which are possible there.

Lockdown has meant more children digging for food in the dumps and bins, and one of our local schools being broken in to this past weekend in the hope that there was food stored inside. This is the harsh reality these children face.

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.

Long term we are looking at sustainable ways in which we can support these children and the schools which they attend. We are looking to partner with people and businesses, passionate about feeding our children. A full tummy goes a long way to assist with educating a child and caring for them holistically.

If you wish to get in touch, please do! or

NPO Number Pending

Story published by edited by Steuart Pennington

Robyn lives in the Midlands with her teacher husband and her two kids. Her community work experience has included Adult Education & Learning focusing on English instruction, assisting with needs (including educational, facility and security) at Kulagahle Creche in Zenzane Village, a project with young girls at Lions River Primary relating to the provision of reusable sanitary pads. Her current portfolio under Michaelhouse Community Partnership Trust (MCPT) is heading up the IT Programme in our communities.

Action in Isolation is a personal project of hers and run independently of the MCPT Programme