TWELVE weeks, tens of thousands of blankets, and thousands of smiling faces: that’s the legacy of Operation Warm Hearts campaign, which ended in Knysna at the weekend.
Operation Warm Hearts, aCapeArgusinitiative in association with the Gift of the Givers Foundation, BP and Unilever, was launched in June and aimed to become the largest blanket drive the province had seen.
Over the weeks, volunteers from Gift of the Givers visited 54 facilities across the province – children’s homes, community centres, schools, old-age homes, churches, soup kitchens and clinics in Athlone, Manenberg, Bonteheuwel, Nyanga, Kensington, Gugulethu, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Klapmuts, and a number of other areas.
The campaign’s last stop was in Rheenendal, Knysna, where blankets and food parcels were delivered to the families of 14 pupils and a bus driver who died last month when the bus they were travelling in plunged into a dam.
Other pupils atRheenendalPrimary Schoolalso received blankets and food from Operation Warm Hearts.
Gawa Sayed, theWestern Capedirector of Gift of the Givers, said the organisation and its partners had decided to end the campaign in Rheenendal because “we need to spread some warmth here as well”.
“People should be aware that wherever people are suffering, whether it is inSomaliaor in our backyards, the distance doesn’t matter, we feel it. Pain, loss and poverty is on our doorstep as well and we are always ready to help.”
There were many heartbreaking moments during the campaign – at a school inElsiesRiver, 59-year-old Mariam Foentjie queued for three hours when she heard Operation Warm Hearts was coming to visit.
When the Gift of the Givers truck arrived, she pushed through hundreds of people to get to the front and told theCapeArgus: “I haven’t eaten the whole day. This will be the first and the last meal I will have today – tomorrow I am going to starve.”
Sayed said the campaign had been, in some ways, an overwhelming experience.
“There is a great need out there and what we want to do is not to duplicate what other NGOs are doing – we want to step out and go where no one is helping. These are donors’ rands and they need to be spent where help is needed.”
Asked about the most memorable moment of the campaign, Sayed recalled a visit to Cloetesville outside Stellenbosch.
She saw one man being carried into the community hall at which they had set up for the day – he had no legs and no wheelchair. He was followed by three other disabled people – all elderly, and all without wheelchairs, she said.
Sayed sent the Gift of the Givers’ driver back to the organisation’s warehouse in Athlone to fetch wheelchairs – and these were given to the four people.
The man who had been carried into the hall wept on Sayed’s shoulder when she presented him with his wheelchair.
“He said it was his birthday gift because that day was his birthday,” she said.
Nerisha Maharaj, Unilever SouthAfrica’s corporate sustainability manager, said the company’s involvement with Operation Warm Hearts was part of its strategy to fulfil its responsibilities to the societies and communities in which it operated.
“This year’s campaign has received positive feedback across the board, and we are very proud to have been part of it,” said Maharaj.
“As part of the campaign alone, we have contributed products valued at more than R940 000.”