Barry's Soup

The Pandemic broke families, should we die of hunger too!

To Woolly’s shoppers they may just be groceries, but turning them into a million meals in seventeen months for the hungry was not such a small task for Barry’s ICT and Woolworths.

In Brief

  • uSpiked first brought you the story of Barry and his Culinary school in 2014, he is back on our pages. But this time with his Soup Kitchen.
  • Barry’s Soup Kitchen arrived on our shores when the disadvantaged communities needed it the most.

Imagine it is March 11, 2020. The World Health Organisation has just declared the novel Coronavirus, a pandemic. You and your neighbours are scrambling to survive. You tune your old transistor radio to a local talk station hoping for news about the novel coronavirus. And for information on how to avoid contracting this killer virus. Then the news of not touching your face and social distancing buzz through the speakers of the transistor radio. You get up from your seat and stare down at your hands; you feel crashed, you were due to start your basic culinary training at a Cape Town-based chef school. This was to be your way out of poverty… Your single mother and siblings back in the Eastern Cape all depend on your possible success.

Barry Berman, the scriptwriter with a heart of gold

You recall how excited and prayerful they were when you gave them the good news that you had been accepted for the training. And now this virus is scattering all those dreams. You curse in isiXhosa. ‘How the heck would you learn to be a world-class chef with this social distancing thing!’ what would happen to your mother and siblings? Would things be this bad if your father hadn’t died in the mines! You go down on your knees to do the only thing your mother drilled onto your skull. Prayer. A while later, you get up believing your God will provide. After all, it could have been worse. That great future you had envisioned for your mother and siblings just got bleaker.

You were one of the earliest casualties of the Pandemic, and you weren’t alone. Pandemic changed the world as we knew it and altered your future. It also brought out the worst and the best in humanity.  On the one side, profiteers took advantage of the Pandemic declaration to enhance the sizes of their bank accounts through the simplest of acts, such as price gouging of consumables; or hoarding of Personal Protective Equipment while others started peddling fake cures for COVID-19. On the other side, scientists went on overdrives to break down the makeup of the virus and developed cures and vaccines.

Mzikhona Mgendle, no time to rest

In the middle of all these, millions of people lost jobs hence incomes. Governments across the globe sought means of aiding their respective citizens that faced bleak futures and a sink into poverty. Individuals and corporations contributed little or the much they could spare to aid governments in the fight against the pandemic.

While workers were losing jobs and hence incomes, some corporations allowed their workers to work from their respective homes. Losers in this category however included entities whose incomes depended on offering services to workers. These initially included operators of public transport (taxis and public buses). The scale of the impact varied from street vendors, taxi operators to some airlines, most of which grounded to a complete halt. Some governments had no answers for these categories of the population. The pandemic globally froze operations. Due to accompanying lockdowns, traffic on our roads eased. The heavily polluted cities for a brief period enjoyed clear skies. Within a month of the lockdown, The Guardian provided proof of the impact of pollution from fossil fuel.

There were however enough of us who were being left behind. Independent workers had no fallback positions. South African Government, through the Department of Labour, bumped up the unemployment benefits for those who had lost jobs.  While uSpiked had already brought to our readers' attention to at least one corporation that continued to pay its workers even though they had to stay home due to pandemic restrictions, we recently came across another of uSpiked’s old friend who converted its operation for something nobler and odder.

In July 2014, we brought to you the saga of the film scriptwriter with a heart of gold, Barry Berman. Through his Infinity Culinary Training, he has reduced the levels of poverty in at least 572 homes in the country. Yes, that is the number of students who have passed through ICT since its inception in 2009.

At a glance, more than a school

When the Pandemic hit, Berman was in Cape Town overseeing the enrolment of the Class of 2020. Like many of us, when the world went into lockdowns, he found himself in a dilemma; the ICT Class of 2020 whose enrolment he had just overseen had to be suspended indefinitely. At the time, nobody knew how long it would take to get the virus under control. Nobody understood the virus.

Enjoying the Cape Town sun in between classes

With the subsequent public health restrictions in place, Berman had no choice but to suspend the regular operations of the school. “It would have been irresponsible to pretend we could have a productive physical training.” The training offered by ICT could not be implemented remotely. With the suspension of training, Berman’s main concern was how the ICT staff were going to survive. ICT’s administrative staff had to be reassigned.  Working remotely from their respective homes, their new chores were fielding calls from ICT past graduates who were losing their jobs. Placement of out-of-work past graduates became the staff’s main duties. With the hospitality industry bearing the brunt of the Pandemic, few professional kitchens were in operation thus placements of the past graduates wasn’t easy. “ICT is a family, and in hard times families try to stay together…” One former ICT graduate who was also a victim of the Pandemic told this journalist.

Holding one another, The Human pyramid

With his love for Africa still in abundance, Berman, unable to fly back to the USA due to the travel restrictions, decided to work on another script, but this time the script wasn’t for another Hollywood movie. It was for people’s lives. The new script had his culinary school as the main character. He applied and obtained essential services permit for ICT to provide cooked meals for the most vulnerable. Another character in this script was Woolworths Food, the corporation that had been supplying its students with produce and training space, kitchen. In the new script, instead of training tomorrow’s chefs, the school jointly with Woolworths Food were to run community feeding schemes.

The feeding scheme started modestly by providing 1,000 meals a week. This scheme started in April 2020. Two months later with restrictions being relaxed, instead of stopping the scheme, the main characters had become addicted to feeding the communities around Cape Town and as Woolworths’ Diane Peterson put it to uSpiked, “Playing an active and meaningful role in addressing South Africa’s food security and hunger alleviation challenges has always been a key focus of the Woolworths Trust, and our CSI strategy.  Alongside partnerships aimed at improving food systems, Woolworths sees food relief as a natural extension of their Foods offering."

Quoting Scott Parker, Woolworths Foods Product Development Manager, Peterson told us, “We are grateful to have the opportunity to partner with the ICT to feed thousands of vulnerable people here in Cape Town during this challenging time as the global pandemic has worsened food insecurity and too many South Africans are going hungry.”

Some members of Langa Community Action Network from the young to the seniors who cook the meals.

This is an addiction neither party wants any rehabilitation for. But in this script, there have been other characters. To access the communities to be fed, the group enlisted the services of volunteers from Cape Town Together’s Community Action Networks. And the key individual here was a 27-year-old Mzikhona Mgedle of Langa Bicycle Hub. He organised women grouping in Langa township that led to the creation of Langa Community Action Network, but went further and availed his bicycle hub to see to the delivery of meals to beneficiaries of the feeding scheme in Langa.

The creation of Cape Town Together, a forum that brings people from different social and professional backgrounds together to counter the Pandemic is one such good thing that could be attributed to the Pandemic.