As our eyes adjust to the dim light of the room, we take in our surroundings: A tiny kitchen, no bigger than nine square meters. Immaculately clean, but with so little space, clearly bursting at the seems. An aroma of a recently prepared, hearty meal still hangs in the air. A meal that fed close to a hundred people - mostly children - from the surrounding impoverished neighbourhood of Fisantekraal.
Twice a week, a long line of eager little faces queue outside Maggie’s Soup Kitchen. This meal, prepared either by Maggie, hubby Elroy or their right-hand-woman, Auntie B, is perhaps the only nutritious food that many of these people will have this week…
I look for the source of the delicious aroma, but cannot seem to find Maggie’s gas burner on any tabletop. And then I almost stub my toe against it. Turns out that the counter that once housed the burner was no match for the weight of the large pots of food, and it collapsed in on itself. So not only does this soup kitchen feed the community, the dedicated volunteers do it bent over a stove on the floor!
Maggie shares that in 2020, when the community’s need was most dire, she was hesitant to take on the massive responsibility of opening a soup kitchen. “I asked God, ‘Why now, God? Why me? My family is also struggling!’, and He simply replied, ‘Help your neighbours’”. Not long after that, MercyAIDS and various individual donors stepped in to offer support, and the soup kitchen has gone from strength to strength ever since.
It took us about five seconds and one shared meaningful glance to make up our minds: Maggie needed a new kitchen.
During the first phase of renovations, we got to know and love this amazing woman and her beautiful family more and more. Apart from their two adopted children, gorgeous Anniek (10) and adorable little Eden (1), Maggie and Elroy have opened their hearts and home as a safe haven to seven neighbourhood children (aged 4-12). Maggie feeds them, packs lunches for school, ensures they have clean clothes, shoes, helps with homework… Most importantly, she showers them with love. Her face lights up when she speaks about children, "Kids have no control over the bad things in their lives. They are born into it, innocent. They deserve a fair chance. These kids are starved for attention. They just want to chat and have someone to listen. They want a role model.”
She bubbles over with passion when she speaks of her dream to one day run a safe house for children. “The tree must grow strong and healthy from its roots.” Thinking back on her own difficult childhood, the terrible living conditions that her two kids were adopted from, learning about all the bad things that go on in her neighbourhood, has led her to believe that our society would be better off if we all learnt the value of life and love at a young age. Happy, healthy children make for well adjusted adults.
When asked how she stays motivated when faced with such challenging circumstances, such big, deep-rooted issues, she replies, "I don't get tired. Struggles only build me up, because I see into other people's hearts. I see their troubles and I listen and that gives me strength. God gives me strength to help them. As long as I am able to give, I will give. I believe in change. There is always hope.”
When she’s not cooking, uplifting her community or spending time with her beautiful family, Maggie works as Facilities Manager at Shofar Church, Durbanville. She started there as a cleaner, but was soon promoted. “I guess they saw me”, she laughs shyly.
We have come to know Maggie as the epitome of strength, faith and perseverance. Above all else, she is a mother. Apart from her seemingly limitless compassion, her journey is just beyond inspirational! “Looking back, it has been a long walk of faith. I think of where we started, and I look at where we are now, and I am just so grateful”, says Maggie. “I don’t regret where I am now for a moment! God has been carrying me. Sometimes, you don’t really know yourself until you really know yourself”.
We'd like to thank carpenter, Alex Kibalenko from The Modest Toolbox, for his time and expertise to help bring this project to life!
Want to get involved? Maggie's Soup Kitchen refurbishment wish list:
We are in the process of planning and costing phase two of the kitchen, which we hope to complete within the next few months.
Apart from supplies to keep her soup kitchen up and running (dry soup mix, beans, lentils; soup powder; tinned fish; staple starch like rice, pasta, maize meal; veggies; cleaning supplies; gas), the following will also go a long way towards helping us reach our goals (and empowering Maggie to reach hers!):
- Large pieces of white melamine in good condition
- Double kitchen sink and dry rack in good condition
- Secure gas bottle 'cage' to house gas outdoors
- Cash donations
Juanita and Maggie, chatting in her kitchen.
Left: The life blood of the kitchen, the burner. Right: the cupboard that couldn't bare its weight...
Phase one renovations underway! Elroy and Alex, installing the new cupboards and shelves.
Before and after. Maggie especially loves the addition of this huge table surface - something that was certainly lacking before.
Right: The gas burner is now safely out of little Eden's reach, at a comfortable height on the new counter. We hope to eventually move the gas bottle outside.
MLeft: Supermom Maggie and her two adoring kids, Anniek and Eden. Right: Elroy and Maggie.
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