Demand for food surges with 5,000 requests a day turned down

The homeless, unemployed and families living below the bread line gather in Mayfair, Johannesburg, to collect food parcels on Sunday./ Dino Lloyd
The homeless, unemployed and families living below the bread line gather in Mayfair, Johannesburg, to collect food parcels on Sunday./ Dino Lloyd

The national lockdown is hitting the poor hardest with provinces saying they have seen an exponential increase in people seeking social relief and food.

Department of social development offices across the country said they had been inundated with calls from people asking for help with food.

The country entered day 21 of the lockdown today, which has since been extended until April 30.

In Gauteng, at least 7,000 requests for food parcels are received a day. Acting MEC of social development Panyaza Lesufi told Sowetan that some requests for food were coming from outside the province.

"We have been forced to shut down the call centre because the numbers were too much. People were calling from all over the country but our focus is Gauteng only," Lesufi said.

Lesufi said not everyone who cries hunger receives the food parcels as the department has to screen each request.

"We have existing clients that we are supporting. On the calls that we receive we prioritise people who are sick, those who have nothing to eat as they have no income due to the lockdown and the homeless. Our process is structured... The majority of the people asking for help say it is due to the lockdown," he said.

On average about 2,000 a day are able to benefit on average. After getting the alert of someone who needs food, the department sends its workers to the home of the person for screening. This is done to establish if they are not benefiting from other form of government support.

"Once the screening is done, we alert the food bank to send the parcel to the affected person. We have five food banks which are located in the five regions of the province. We have been distributing food parcels long before the lockdown," Lesufi said.

The department has R80m dedicated to provide relief to struggling individuals in the province.

"We understand that people who receive grants could also be struggling but we have to prioritise those who have nothing at this stage. These are people who were begging at the robots for a living but who cannot do so due to the lockdown. We, however, want to ramp up the number of people benefiting daily to 5,000," Lesufi said.

People needing food parcels can now send emails to support@gauteng.gov.za.

In Mpumalanga, the department said it was getting more than 300 calls a day.

Spokesperson Comfort Ngobe said they were overwhelmed by the unexpected high number of calls. They have since increased the number of lines to five.

"As you know, we always had people who were on our database, but during this lockdown period there's more numbers coming in... per day we [are] receiving about 300 calls from people requesting food relief. We are getting to them and there's more who are in need," said Ngobe.

"We would like our people to please not abuse the lines, closing space for people who really need help, because some people get screened and we find out that some are capable enough to buy food."

The department of social development in Mpumalanga can be contacted on 079-890- 3471, 079-890-0175, 082-044- 7400 and toll-free on 0800-020-4098.

The Limpopo department of social development said they have identified 5,000 beneficiaries in the province and distribution started at the weekend.

"We rely on the list given to us by our social workers, community development practitioners and Sassa [South African Social Security Agency] officials who do a thorough screening to make sure relevant people benefit. And the distribution is going according to the plan," said spokesperson Witness Tiva.

He said they were giving priority to those families who earn less than R850 and were receiving enquiries from ordinary citizens. "This shows that the demand is high and we appeal to donors to come on board."

Tiva said they have asked police to be at distribution points after a scuffle broke out on Monday when the Greater Letaba mayor Peter Matlou and social development employees were blocked from giving beneficiaries food parcels.

The community claimed the department was giving food to undeserving beneficiaries.

In the Eastern Cape, social development spokesperson Gcobani Maswana said: "We always have a budget of R50m to help poor families but the number of people in need has increased so much. We are working with Sassa.

"We anticipate more demand for food relief as there are many people who are not working during the lockdown."

Maswana said people who needed food relief must contact councillors, traditional leaders or church leaders.

"Our people must not panic because food is ready and it's coming," Maswana said.

KwaZulu-Natal has called on those in dire need to apply for food parcels.

Provincial Sassa spokesperson Sandy Godlwana said: "An appeal is made to everyone who might know of someone in dire need of help to not hesitate but approach Sassa."

You can contact 033-846-3400 or WhatsApp 071-607- 1514.

So far, the Gauteng department of social development has received a lot of help from the private sector. It has received:

  • 10,000 food packs from Shell SA;l Colgate
  • Palmolive donated 21 pallets containing bath soap, toothpaste, roll-on, body lotion, face cloths;
  • MealSA donated 120,000 bags of mealie meal;
  • Dursots donated 720 cans of chakalaka and baked beans; and
  • South African National Zakah Fund donated R5m for the procurement of food, nutritional energy drinks, blankets, mattresses and toiletries.

Acting MEC Panyaza Lesufi urged organisations that want to donate to come to the department rather than visit communities with the food parcels, as this causes problems when the food parcels run out. A report shared by Lesufi showed that there were a number of challenges with distribution of parcels such as:

  • Incorrect addresses given;
  • Everyone wants food and people become aggressive to officials;
  •  Hotline and email not always accessible;
  • Some beneficiaries are not aware that their names have been submitted;
  • Different calls and different numbers but same addresses;
  • Insufficient big trucks; and
  • Referrals with no contact numbers. - Penwell Dlamini

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