For the first time in 12 years the gates of Shekinah Soup Kitchen in Sea Vista, St Francis Bay was closed. With a lump in her throat, Margaret Vena tries to stop the tears. She has the difficult task of telling the children who have arrived for their morning porridge that all soup kitchens are closed due to Corona Virus safety precautions. They look at her with uncertain faces not really sure that they understand what she is saying. She repeats the words a few times and tells them to go home. That was in April.
The soup kitchen is run by Margaret Vena and she is supported by her husband Andrew who is well known in his community as a pastor at Shekinah Ministries and as radio presenter of a spiritual program at Kouga FM. The soup kitchen started as a result of children knocking on her door for something to eat on a daily basis. She would feed them but gradually the number of children who came knocking multiplied. She decided to start making sandwiches twice every week and fed between 40 and 50 children on each day.
Good Samaritans from the St Francis community heard about the initiative and started donating regularly. “At that time Andrew worked at the petrol station and many times he would come home and tell her people gave donations for the soup kitchen.”
One of Woodlands Dairy’s employees saw what they were doing and informed them about the company’s corporate social investment programme and encouraged her to apply. The application was successful and she could provide a bowl of maize porridge with milk and sugar donated by Woodlands Dairy to scholars who passed by her house on their way to school. The amount of children she fed increased and she needed a bigger space to cook in. In the following years she applied for a Wendy House, a roof between her house and the Wendy House so the kids could stay dry during rainy weather while eating breakfast, tables and chairs and kitchen utensils.
Margaret says: “We are grateful for the relationship we have built with the dairy and that we are blessed to be used as instruments to be a helping hand to the community. Kouga Windfarm also donates fruit and vegetables on a monthly basis so now we are able to provide the children with lunch. Over the years we have not had many uphill battles because the moment people realised what we were trying to achieve they supported the project; among others, SPAR, Balobi Fishing and many St Francis residents. Every year guests from the Netherlands visit us and in the past have blessed us with a new stove and furniture for our Wendy House kitchen. We are very grateful to each and every donation received.”
In 2016 St Francis Rotary invited Margaret to a function where they surprised her with the Paul Harris Fellow Rotary Award which usually is only awarded to a Rotary member, for her dedication to the community. In the same year she also received the Outstanding Individual Award from St Francis tourism. Sea Vista Primary invited the couple to the school’s annual prize giving to pay homage to them for the impact they have on the children’s lives. Teachers at the school noticed that the learners at the school’s work improved as a result of better concentration due to a healthy breakfast.
“That day when the gate was closed for the first time and I saw my wife crying I knew I had to do something. There and then I decided that we will continue despite any repercussion there might be from the police. I boiled water and told my wife that we are not stopping while there are so many hungry mouths to feed and especially during the lockdown when so many parents could not earn a living. St Francis residents from all over the town supported my decision and we sent messages that the children should come around for their porridge at 10h00 and again later for lunch. Our gate was closed for a few hours in 12 years and it gave us new understanding of how much need there still is