23 July 2021
Just after 10am on Thursday morning, hundreds of people had already gathered in the parking area behind the Atlantis Pharmacy, north of Cape Town. The group formed three separate long queues as they wait to collect their warm meal and a food parcel.
“When I started working in Atlantis [13 years ago], I saw there were so many poor people. We started with five loaves of bread, then it grew to ten, then fifty and then 100. So we provide hot meals every Thursday and we also give them a takeaway meal that they can eat later that consists of bread, polony and peanut butter,” says Atlantis pharmacist Thahier Alli.
“My late parents were always giving to the less fortunate, always helping in the community, so it rubbed off on us as children. Even my brother, who is a forensic specialist, does a feeding drive once every month.”
On Thursday, Marshay Jantjies and Bianca Dumba were getting ready to serve the hot dish to the large group. “Today, we are doing pieces of vienna and beans cooked in a delicious sauce. The people love it,” says Jantjies, who has been working at the pharmacy for 11 years.
Dumba said they usually start cooking when the pharmacy opens by 9am in order to serve the food at 11am. “By the time we open, there are already long queues of people outside, some arrive here and start queueing at 6am already.”
Once the food is ready, more people start arriving. As the serving begins, Alli sings the Adhan (call to prayer) over a large speaker in the background.
Elizabeth Jooste, 71, uses a wheelchair. She lives with her unemployed daughter and two young grandchildren. The family survives on her old age pension. “Everything is dependent on my pension, which is not enough. So I make sure I come here every Thursday to get a meal and to have something to take home,” she says.
Jooste became tearful when asked about Alli’s efforts to help the community. “This man goes out of his way to help us and wants nothing in return. We sometimes go to bed hungry, but Alli’s helping hand doesn’t just end here at the feeding scheme. You can come to him anytime and he will find a way to help.”
The food items used by the soup kitchen are all donated by Alli. Trolleys filled with loaves of bread could be seen outside. When asked, Alli tells GroundUp that he ordered 450 loaves. The bread still ran out before everyone could get their parcel. This caused a brief scuffle between people trying to get the last few loaves.
“This is desperation, people are hungry out here. Situations like these are heartbreaking,” says Alli.
Allie also hosts health screenings every two weeks with the local clinic, where people’s cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, HIV status is checked.
Alli was recently nominated for a News24 and Adcock Ingram Sponsors of Brave award for his work in the community. The award recognises and celebrates South Africans in the medical industry, such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists and paramedics.