Lavinia Dodgen knows what it’s like to grow up hungry with no shoes on her feet, and she wants things to be different for the children of Kewtown.
Lavinia, or Auntie Vina as she’s better known, grew up poor in Kewtown. She’s a 62-year-old pensioner now, but memories of those times are still clear, and they still hurt.
Her parents were divorced so Auntie Vina and her brother and sister stayed with their mom. Their father would drop off food for them.
But when he didn’t, Auntie Vina’s brother would collect rotten fruit and vegetables the traders threw away and cook them up.
Auntie Vina remembers getting sores on her mouth, but there was nothing else to eat, she says. Sometimes the neighbours gave them food, but not always.
She remembers her brother giving her piggy-back rides to school because she didn’t have shoes. She left school at 12 to get a job at a pharmacy, earning R5 a week packing tablets to support the family.
About 18 years ago, Auntie Vina started collecting donations of food and making up hampers for all the needy in her neighbourhood. Then she started cooking pots of food.
Now with the nation-wide lockdown, she only feeds children but gives them breakfast, lunch, and supper.
These meals are more than she ever had as a child, she says. She has vowed to never turn a hungry child away.
About 50 children queue daily outside her house. They eat their meals at her and her neighbours’ homes.
Auntie Vina uses her pension to buy the food and also gets help from her children and from others in the community, but she frets about there not being enough food to go around.
“When I got married and raised my children, I did so with a firm hand, and I taught them that the world owes you nothing,” she says. “You work hard for what you want, I don’t know if what I did was right, but I have been blessed with wonderful children who help me with my feeding scheme.”
Ilhaam Samuels is a regular recipient of the food parcels, and her grandchildren get food from the feeding scheme.
“The parcels really help us a lot, especially the bread that she gives the children. We are really grateful for her help.”
Auntie Vina handed out 1 000 Easter eggs and 400 loaves of bread over the Easter holidays.
On Thursday April 16, she was preparing a pot of dhal for the children for supper.
“I always vowed to myself that one day when I am able to I will look after the poor, and that is what I am trying to do. These children have it far worse than what we did, but I try to help them.
“Those days we couldn’t afford to have sugar and milk in our pap, but now I can give them that.”