The Headstart Trust was formed to stimulate social upliftment in the Napier community and it is still doing just that albeit in a different form.

Last year I wrote about of the amazing impact the Headstart music programme was having on the children of the local school, but this year their focus has had to shift sharply meet a more pressing need.

Founder and champion of the Headstart Trust Bruce Jack explains: “When the schools closed on 18 March at the start of the nationwide Lockdown, we realised that obviously our music programme had to stop, but also that these children were going to be even more exposed to the dangers of rural poverty. Firstly, the children would no longer be getting their usual school meals, but also the radical unemployment that would result from the hard Lockdown meant that the whole community would go hungry.

“Within a week or two of Lockdown starting, the crisis was obvious and we knew we had to act fast,” he continues. But instead of trying to start their own programme, they realised it would be much more effective to plug in to the existing structures already supplying food to the needy. In Napier, and all the surrounding Overberg towns, there were well established feeding schemes run by various churches, Rotary Clubs, individuals and NGOs. We approached some of them, and others approached us for help, because while we didn’t have resources, we did have trucks and drivers with nothing to do.”

Initially we simply redirected our Headstart funds into buying supplies to bolster these feeding schemes, but the need mushroomed into something much bigger than we could cope with on our own. “So I tapped into my network.” continues Jack, “Farmers in the area and the Old Boys network of my alma mater have been amazing in helping us.” Because of the Lockdown, many export orders were cancelled and fruit was ripe and ready, so these farmers simply changed gear and redirected their crates of oranges, apples and pears to the various soup kitchens in the newly formed Headstart network. A friend of mine owns a flour mill in Riebeek-West and sends us hundreds of loaves of bread every week.”

Jack and his team are astounded at the support they have received. British liquor retailer Co-op has promised aid, but so have individual UK customers simply depositing small sums directly into our account, and then local retailer Pick ‘n Pay has offered their warehousing and distribution services, funds are still pouring in as demand for food grows.

But it is the locals that are really doing the hard graft. “There is a young guy in Napier who is passionate about helping the foreign nationals who have no access to government grants,” explains Jack. “So once a week he goes into the squatter camp and cooks big pots of soup on an open fire because there is no electricity. Local farmers are donating sheep and a local coffee shop in Bredasdorp, usually known for their astounding cheesecake, has opened their kitchen up to make soup feeding 5000 people at a time.

Currently the Trust supports soup kitchens in 8 Overberg towns: Hermanus, Struisbaai, Elim, Bredasdorp, Arniston, Stanford and Napier and the demand is growing every day.

“It is amazing to see people come together to help each other,” says Jack. “In this time of crisis, people have put their own needs aside and focussed on the greater need. There is the realisation that if we don’t all work together, there is going to be nothing left for any of us in the end. I think we have also learnt that to help others can be even more rewarding than financial gain.

Jack feels that the long-term result of this pandemic will be the strengthening of civil structures. “In recent years the value of the churches and the fire fighters and the charity organisations dissipated as people looked after only themselves. Now these structures are coming to the fore to provide structured and continuous care, and my hope is that they will strengthen civil society, holding government to account.

If you would like to support this cause and feed the hungry in the Overberg, here are the bank details:

Bank FNB

Name: The HeadStart Trust

Branch: 250655

Account: 62845089110

Please include the word RELIEF + your name with your donation.

- By Julia Moore