From a school feeding scheme to 2 million meals – Viva Foundation’s response to critical need

The story of how the Viva Foundation’s small, school feeding scheme in one informal settlement, turned into an intervention that is edging toward two million meals since the beginning of Lockdown in March 2020 until September 2021 in the Tshwane and Johannesburg Metros. 


In the past, Viva provided approximately 165 000 meals a year to learners at its independent school and a selection of vulnerable families in the community around the Viva Village, Mamelodi East.  Providing private schooling in an informal settlement is a part of the Viva vision of bringing transformation by providing quality and equality in education.  The school feeding scheme is essential in ensuring nutritional security to learners, as the two meals at school are, in many cases, the only food some of the learners receive. 

Covid19 Lockdown 

When the world became aware of the Pandemic, it became evident that families in informal settlements and townships, would be hardest hit by the economic meltdown that followed hard lockdown restrictions.  Informal traders and people employed in the catering industry and other lower income jobs, lost their livelihood as business came to a halt.  These families have no financial reserves and when their last salary was used, hunger set in immediately. Learners who are dependent upon the School Feeding Schemes and other vulnerable families, faced immediate food insecurity as the Covid19 Pandemic became known as “The Hunger Virus”. 

As the need for the interventions of NPOs exponentially increased across the country, organisations noticed a spike in costs, that coincided with a drop in funding.  However, the Viva Team decided to step up to the challenge and not to be overcome by it. The Viva Covid19 Disaster Management Response was initiated.  An Action Plan was devised and the Viva Management started raising funds from the private sector, to support and increase its Feeding Scheme efforts.  

New Viva branches, new funding sources and thousands more beneficiaries

Individuals and some corporate and company donors, stepped up to the challenge and the Viva food parcel distribution began on the 24th of March 2020.  To manage crowding and avert chaos during distribution, a list of existing Viva beneficiary families was compiled, from the Viva Independent School and the SAPRI Sexual Violence prevention programme.  The Viva team called each family representative individually and provided them with a collection date and time. For each parcel, a register was signed and a photo was taken as added proof of the distribution. The organisation realised that high accountability and a visible intervention were needed to instil confidence in funders and thus attract the resources needed to maintain and expand the programme.

Within weeks, Viva added a new distribution point in Melville, Johannesburg and funders started responding to the stories of desperation of people who had lost any opportunity to earn a living.  Most of the distributions are physical, face-to-face hand-outs as too many errors and corruption had crept into the Food Voucher systems.  Partnerships with other charities, such as Churches and NPOs, were created that either contributed, or distributed the food parcels on behalf of Viva.  

Four young men collapsed in exhaustion at the Melville distribution point and explained that they had started walking at 4 am from Orlando, Soweto to Melville and when they realised, they are not going to make it, they ran the last kilometres.  They were devastated that all the parcels were handed out and sank to the ground. The new Viva Johannesburg coordinator, Tanya Gardiner, emptied her own pantry and ensured that they did not have to go home empty handed.  This is only one of many similar stories of hope in the middle of extremely challenging times.

The initiative is ongoing and although we no longer count individual meals, between one or two hundred thousand meals are added every passing month.  During the unrest in July 2021, the food distribution reached a peak as grocery stores were closed, looted empty, or destroyed.

Feeding Schemes and Sustainability

Handing out food parcels is an intervention that has been questioned and criticised in several ways.  It has been said that there is ‘no dignity in food parcels’, or that it is not sustainable.  However, as workers on the very forefront of poverty, hunger, and the worst desperation imaginable, the Viva Team knows that there is even less dignity in hunger.  The harsh reality is this:  As long as there is glaring inequality, there will be a need for ‘unsustainable’, expensive responses that will require selfless donor investment. 

The Viva Foundation established a large vegetable garden at its Refilwe campus, but it took 3 years before it started producing in quantities that made any impact in the Feeding Scheme. Providing seedlings to beneficiaries have likewise not proven effective, as it is unfortunately true that very few people have the passion and patience for successful vegetable gardening. 

To consider how a Feeding Scheme can become sustainable, one must decide on the indicators of NPO sustainability.  NPOs are, at their core, not in the business of profit making, nor should they be.  Self-generation of funds are for most NPOs a critical distraction.  NPOs should get on with the business of serving their beneficiaries and to a lesser degree with the business of income generation.  Ironically, a successful NPO, is one for which the need for its interventions grows. The better an NPO performs, the more money it is going to need.  Funding entrusted to an NPO is not ‘income’, but a liability, from which that NPO is only released, once the instructions and mandate of the funder have been fulfilled and the final audit, or report has been signed off.  The weight of the responsibility of funding, far outweighs the joy and impact of receiving funding.

While the topic of Indicators of NPO Sustainability can be discussed at length, it suffices to say that any programme is made sustainable by its operators’ ability to attract resources to it and the buy-in of its beneficiaries.  With a feeding scheme serving exceptionally vulnerable families, the buy-in is a given and the Viva Foundation Management has seen that it is possible to attract resources from a very varied donor portfolio, if it is a visibly effective, well managed and well-received intervention. 

Meleney B. Kriel, CEO, the Viva Foundation SA, DE and UK