Bumper Christmas lunch for homeless in Green Point

Published Dec 19, 2021

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The homeless under the Ebenezer Street bridge in Green Point are in for an absolute treat on Friday. A Christmas lunch with all the trimmings, and a special appearance by Santa Claus.

The idea is the brainchild of Bryan Toerien, from Lansdowne. He said it came about when he and a friend were walking around the Waterfront recently.

"We walked under that bridge to get onto Somerset Road, and we saw the people living under the bridge. And my friend said to me we should do something special for them on Christmas one day, where we sit down with them and we eat with them."

Toerien put his idea out on social media. It was an instant hit. And so Lunch under the bridge – the official name of this project – started gaining momentum.

"It's a dream to be able to cook for them and sit down with them for a meal. We got a buy-in from a lot of people whom I have never met. They have come to the party, offering hands, offering  produce, offering financial donations if they can't be here to assist us on the day," explained Toerien.

And leading the donation drive is media personality and community activist Soli Philander.

Toerien admits he hasn't been shy to use Philander's popularity to help get businesses on board.

"When we go to ask for donations at places, Soli gets a listening ear because he's famous. People know him when he walks through the door and they are willing to listen, they're not dismissive immediately," said Toerien. "And Soli has been working with food provision for a number of years. And he's got the tactical nous to ensure that people get to tell their story, without interrupting them or changing the story to suit his narrative."

Philander, a former radio and TV host, told Weekend Argus: "Bryan is aware of the work we do among the housing insecure as he prefers to call them. And he suggested this dream of his should happen through the auspices of the Soli Philander foundation.

“It's an understanding of where my heart is. It is the same space from where those instincts spring that dream of people, just for a moment, moving out of the harsh reality, into a moment of acknowledgement and sense of worth and being seen by the people who share the space with them."

Donations have been rolling in, and the organisers are able to put up an even more elaborate function than they initially envisioned. Beautifully decorated tables, a three-course meal enjoyed using fancy crockery with fancy cutlery, and gifts.

In terms of the plan for Christmas Eve – the team will gather under the bridge at 10am and set up tables, the decor and a Christmas tree.

Toerien and his team of helpers would have prepared the food at his home.

Lunch runs from 11am to 1pm, with three courses. "The starter is mutton curry and rice. Then there's roast, chicken leg of lamb. roast potatoes and veggies," brags Toerien.

And for that extra element of "posh" as he puts it, "there will be two desserts".

"We're having peppermint crisp tart, and either a pineapple delight or a trifle, one of the two. We are also giving out little gift bags, which we have already been doing shopping for, with toiletries. But we also want Christmas niceties, so it all feels exactly the same like our Christmas would. Things like mebos and nuts and pan peanuts and those things in the packs for the people."

The man responsible for bringing extra Christmas cheer, and who'll be pulling on the Father Christmas suit is another community activist, Lorenzo Davids, Chief executive of The Justice Fund.

Davids joked: "I just hope the suit fits.

“The period is about ordinary people finding meaning in doing ordinary things that create extraordinary impact ," said Davids

“I am so pleased with the team that initiated this caring event to let others know that we all belong to each other. Everyone matters. And that’s the message of Christmas: making sure that everyone finds the significance of giving, of sharing and of becoming better humans. This is our moment to make sure that story is shared with the most vulnerable in this city.”

Philander expressed his joy with how the initiative has progressed. “This whole thing just took off incredibly. We've had donations, we ran from place to place and spoke to people and some of the sponsorships have just been incredible."

Philander added: "I'd love to see more of these initiatives. What it does is it takes away all hierarchical structure and the sense of the canyons that exit between us as groupings in the city. And we're asking people, for a moment, put politics aside, put everything aside and just indicate that whatever else this is about.

“It is not about people on the street not having humanity, and worth. They're our fellow citizens and therefore we do become our brothers' keepers. I think it is important for us to understand that the housing insecure in Cape Town are challenged in all directions.

“And one of those strong challenges comes from  the very institution, this government, this City of Cape Town, this vehicle that is supposed to do something about alleviating the plight of our people. And that somebody said that the only difference between  all of us not living on the street, and them living on the street is three pay cheques.“

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