From humble beginnings in 1999, Jeanny’s Soup Kitchen has grown to become both a landmark and beacon of hope to many residents in an impoverished community on the north-western outskirts of Port Elizabeth.
Two bright blue, repurposed shipping containers, funded by Ford South Africa, form the hub of Jeanny’s Soup Kitchen in Malabar Ext 6. Local resident and founder of the soup kitchen, Jeanny Edwards, works three days a week as a Community Health Worker at the public clinic in neighbouring Gelvandale, where she grew up. Five afternoons a week she feeds the hungry.
“On Mondays we serve Ext 6 and Parsons Vlei,” says Edwards. “Tuesdays we serve the Quarry area, Wednesdays we serve Ext 6, Thursdays we serve 7de Laan, and Fridays we serve Ext 6.”
Over the course of a week, the soup kitchen feeds over 1 700 people. Children are Edwards’ top priority, and are always served before the adults.
“In 2009, after 10 years of feeding the needy, we received our NPO certificate,” she says proudly. “And in 2014, when Ford stepped into our lives, it was a tremendous blessing.” Ford’s initial support involved upgrading and revamping the existing wooden Wendy house structures, which Edwards used as her home and for the soup kitchen – including fitting a brand new roof.
The converted shipping containers were donated and installed adjacent to Edwards’ home in 2015, and the facilities were further upgraded in 2016 with solar power and lighting, as well as security fencing. A second stove helped lighten the workload of the volunteers in the new soup kitchen, allowing them to get their work done in a much shorter period of time. “It really lifted our spirits,” says Edwards.
The shipping containers at the heart of the operation are multipurpose. “We use them for everything,” says Edwards. One container houses the actual kitchen, which has racks for sorting and storing everything. “Our food is much safer in the storeroom,” she explains. Outside is a shaded, well-tended, and secure vegetable garden which Ford created, complete with a JoJo rainwater tank so Edwards can grow her own veggies and be more self-sufficient. The other, longer container houses the dining room, whose walls are lined with shelves, heaving under the weight of donated books. “When the children sit and eat, they can also enjoy going through a book,” she smiles.
Besides serving almost 90 000 meals per year, the distinctive blue containers act as a reassuring anchor for the community. It offers a welcoming space for people to gather, catch up on gossip, ask for help, share advice, commiserate and collaborate. “We do the clinic on a Monday here in the container,” says Edwards. “When there are meetings and people don’t have a venue, we use the container. If the social workers need to talk to the people here, then we host them in the container. And people can come here to phone for emergency services.”
Edwards has big dreams to further expand the ‘menu offering’ in the shipping containers. Continuing with her ever child-centric approach, certified skills training in Early Childhood Development, and school holiday programmes, are high on her wish list.
Jeanny’s Soup Kitchen is a landmark in this community, and even though Edwards cannot single-handedly uplift the lives of residents, by heeding her call to feed tummies and nourish souls, she will certainly leave a lasting legacy.
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