Food Angels

"What you do is what you believe . . . the rest is manipulative psycho-babble." 

In the destitution and squalor of South Africa I found the real deal. No talk . . . all walk. On the outskirts of Johannesburg hundreds of fathers and mothers were dying and many hundreds of children in the shantytown communities were left as orphans as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Refugees kept pouring into the hopeless shantytowns from neighboring countries looking for food and work. 

For some reason Heather and her three friends, known as -the "Food Angels," had taken it upon themselves to feed and clothe a portion of those abandoned children. Three of the four were of Scottish decent and five years prior all three had chosen to leave their lives of sufficiency and move into the squalor of the shantytowns. 

Heather took me over to the edge of the dirt trail and pointed to three trees off on the western landscape. "Our shanty is near the center tree. You can barely see our shack from here. We moved out here five years ago. It really surprised the people to see the only European-looking people moving into a shanty with no toilet or water. This has been our home and this is our beloved work," said Heather, an older woman who could not disguise the physical results of a harsh life. Her husband's shaggy beard was matted and mostly gray, his bushy hair held down by an old black stocking hat.

The quartet had settled on five locations throughout the crowded shantytown communities. At exactly the same time every day they would show up at the designated feeding spots. Heather and her small group traveled in two vehicles throughout the shanty camps. One was an old blue car with a rack attached to the top. Fifty-five small plastic stackable chairs in colors of blue and red were fastened to the rack by a worn rope. The other vehicle was a small white pick-up truck with a camper shell on the back. 

The group would go to grocery distributors and bakeries located in the Johannesburg area where they would be given loaves of bread, raw vegetables and large plastic sacks filled with puffed rice snacks. Another distributor gave them cases of a malty nutrient drink sold as a dietary supplement. I studied the ingredients and was impressed. Surely, no child would starve to death if they were consistently getting looked after by Heather and her crew.

On Tuesday, Anna Marie and I traveled over the rutty trails of the shantytowns with the "Food Angels" on their rounds. At the first stop, scores of ragged, dirty kids had gathered, cheering and waving. Upon arrival, Heather's husband unloaded the 55 blue and red stackable plastic chairs.Monica was the fourth member of the group. She was a teen who had been orphaned when small and had become the song leader, cheer leader and crowd controller at the feeding stations. Monica had the shanty kids sounding more like a children's touring choir than a bunch of ragamuffin HIV/AIDS orphans.

"This is the only meal these kids will get today. Most of them are AIDS orphans. See that little boy over there by the truck? He has AIDS. See that little girl over there? She has AIDS and is noticeably dying. And see that seven-year-old boy there? He has AIDS passed on to him by his mother before she died.That boy is the son of a witch doctor here in shanty town. See his beads and leather straps? But he is also dying of AIDS. We just keep showing up and loving these precious children. We can't take them all home with us, so we have come to make our home with them.

"What you do is what you believe . . . the rest is manipulative psycho-babble."

(To Be Continued)