Lockdown Journal: Day 56 (Melville Food Relief)

by | May 21, 2020 | COVID-19, Johannesburg, Melville and Surrounds | 10 comments

It’s Day 56 of the South African lockdown. I spent the morning taking photos at the food parcel distribution program on 3rd Avenue in Melville.

People waiting in line for food parcels
Lockdown photo 56: People wait in line for food parcels outside 91 3rd Avenue in Melville.

I didn’t provide all the details about this program in yesterday’s post. Here’s how it works:

  1. The Viva Foundation receives donations for the Melville food program (find out how to donate at the bottom of this post), then sends the money to Tanya.
  2. Tanya and Sean source food for the parcels through Pick-n-Pay and Jumbo Farmers, a local produce store in Albertville. Each parcel has about enough food to feed a family of four for one week. This week’s parcels contained maize meal, soup mix, dried beans, cabbage, potatoes, butternut, onions, sugar, salt, soap, and hand sanitizer, among other items. Each food parcel costs only R130 (about $7) to source, which is incredible.
  3. On Mondays, Tanya and Sean distribute numbered paper tickets corresponding to the number of parcels they’ll have that week. There are no criteria for who can receive a parcel. This week the Gardiners gave out 300 tickets but wound up giving out about 350 parcels because there was extra food. (The number of parcels has increased each week — it started at 30.) People find out about the parcels through word of mouth and come to collect the tickets at the Gardiners’ gate. Ninety percent of the people who sign up for parcels live in and around Melville.
  4. On Wednesday mornings, a group of volunteers gathers to pack the parcels, following strict hygiene rules throughout the process.
  5. On Thursday mornings, starting at 8:00 a.m., the same group of volunteers distributes the parcels. Recipients must present their paper ticket to receive a parcel. Volunteers collect the name of each recipient and also photograph each recipient with their numbered ticket (simply to provide documentation that each ticket is used only once). All volunteers and recipients must be wearing masks and those who don’t have masks are given them. Beagle Watch security sends several staff members to promote safety and social distancing during the distribution.

Today’s distribution lasted for about two-and-a-half hours. At one point the line stretched around three sides of the very long block between 3rd Avenue, 6th Street, and 4th Avenue. The first people in line told me they arrived at 5:00 a.m., when it is still pitch-dark and cold.

I’ve been dragging out writing this post all day. I’m struggling to find words for the weird mix of feelings I have about what I witnessed: Joy from watching these volunteers make a tremendous difference in so many lives; pride in my community; tremendous sadness that so many people are hungry; helplessness in the face of this horrific global crisis; and seething anger at the ridiculous woman who marched past with her dog, scowling beneath her mask, and ranted to me about how “these people” don’t actually need food because some of them are leaving in cars. (“Where did they get the cars?!” she demanded. Um…huh?) Fortunately there was only one such woman and I later realized I feel pity for her, not anger.

Here is a bunch of photos to tell the story.

Volunteers ready to work
Volunteers, ready to work.
Tanya Gardiner giving instructions
Tanya giving instructions.
Portrait of a man waiting for food
A man waiting. It simply wasn’t possible to really talk to people or even get their names. For the foreseeable future, my normal process for collecting people’s stories is going to be hampered by masks and social distancing.
A prayer before the distribution begins.
First in line
First in line.
Each person handed in their ticket and then Mbali and Tanya checked the numbers off a list.
Sanitizing before the parcel handoff.
Portrait of a food parcel customer
Lady waiting with parcels
Each parcel consists of three bags of food. I found myself worrying about the gogos (grandmas) having to carry home such a heavy load. I expressed my concern to this lady and she laughed. “Eish, I don’t mind,” she said. “It’s much better than nothing.”
The line was broken into two groups to help things move faster.
Social distancing
Melville jogger
Mask fashion
So much mask fashion.

At the end of the distribution I did finally make time for a longer chat with a woman named Leah. I admired her mask and Leah told me she made it herself. Leah has lived her whole life in Melville and she is raising two grandchildren alone after her son and daughter-in-law passed away. Leah is a domestic worker but she’s lost all her income due to the lockdown.

Leah in Melville
Leah. If anyone reading this knows her, please send me a message. She gave me her number but it doesn’t seem to be working.

It looks like the food distribution site will most likely move to a local church next week, which will be a huge improvement for everyone involved. I’ll provide more details once I have them.

Today’s Worthy Cause

I’m featuring the same worthy cause today as yesterday: this one. The need is huge and it just keeps growing — Tanya and Sean have had to turn many people away every week.

If you want to support this efficient, grass-roots, community food distribution program, please donate to the Viva Foundation and designate “Melville” as a reference. (If you’d like to donate from overseas, please message me.)

Here are Viva’s banking details:

Name: Viva Foundation
Branch: FNB Olympus Plaza Code 258155
Acc Nr.: 622 4884 3270
Reference: Melville


  1. violetonlineisonline

    I cannot imagine this was easy ‘work’ today.
    Also we have so many stories to share, I hope we get to do it one day WITHOUT MASKS ON and in a more sane / healthy / ordinary environment.

    • 2summers

      I really hope so too.

  2. Catrina

    This is devastating. Thanks for sharing this story.
    I assume that the Gardiners also have a long queue on Monday’s when they give out the paper tickets.

  3. Paul S Rowlston

    A wonderful documenting of an extraordinary moment in time. One small technical note, I want to disavow Ayoob’s hope that the old ladies dog bit her, I have not heard any evidence to suggest that the dog did anything to deserve such an horrific punishment.
    Thank you for the pictures (those I stole and those I will probably steal) and the words.

  4. David Bristow

    I have become a let less angry with the world: whenever some fuckwit does something stupid, I picture a bell curve and tell myself this mantra – there is a space for every kind, including angels and devils, under the bell curve.

    • 2summers

      That’s a good way to think about it.

  5. Julie

    Thanks so much for this post, Heather, and bringing awareness to this amazing effort led by the Viva Foundation. How wonderful to know that contributing R130 can feed 1 family for 1 week, so a donation of R1300 feeds 10 families for that week! Thanks again for bringing awareness to this NGO. Hopefully it will become so well funded that they won’t have to turn away people and perhaps can even open up other collection locations across the country. Also, really wonderful pics.


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