Soup for the Sick: A bowl of warmth in a time of need

As the second wave of Covid-19 infections grips South Africa, a network of women’s organisations have come to the aid of thousands of people battling the virus by providing them with nutritious, healthy soup to sustain them in their fight.

Driven to action by the growing number of people unable to cook for themselves or their families, members of the Soup for the Sick network are cooking and delivering soups and other meals around the country.

The network, co-ordinated by the South African National Muslim Women’s Forum and Human Aid, began its work in Durban and Johannesburg, and has now spread to many other towns around the country. 

Teams of volunteers cook the soup in their homes and others co-ordinate and deliver the meals ordered the day before. The intervention is not limited to homemade soups — donations of oxygen, masks, herbal supplements and food parcels are distributed to people, according to their needs.

Hawa Patel, the programme co-ordinator, said the network of organisations, which had existed before the arrival of the pandemic, had spent much of the first lockdown distributing masks, sanitisers, food and other supplies to those in need. With the arrival of the second wave and the increase in community transmissions, they had identified the need to provide soup and other food that is palatable for people with Covid-19, who generally battle to eat solid foods.


“We had requests from various people who couldn’t manage to cook. A lot of them wanted the soup to drink because they couldn’t manage solids,” Patel said. 

“The demand increased because of the increase in the number of infections and the number of people who could not cook for themselves.”

The network set up a contact list of cooks, drivers and appointed a co-ordinator for each area, who works with the volunteers and liaises with those needing food.

“Each volunteer group has reached out to their community for support and donations. This is not about being Muslim or religion or colour or anything else. We are just here to help,” Patel said.

She said the demand varied from area to area, as did the kind of food that was required. All the soups are homemade and loaded with vegetables and herbs to boost the patient’s immune system. They are accompanied by rolls and, in many cases, notes of encouragement and love written by the volunteers.

All the volunteers have been trained in Covid-19 protocols to protect themselves and the people they are cooking for. 

The packaging is sanitised before the food is dispatched. The recipient is called before the food is delivered, literally to their doorstep, where it is left for collection, for safety reasons.

“This is not like a normal life project. Here we need to be cautious, to wear masks and sanitise, to ensure everybody is protected,” Patel said.

The meals also assist in boosting the morale of patients, particularly older people living alone.

“I suppose it helps to know that there is somebody out there who is thinking of you and that you are not totally alone,” she said.

Khudaija Ismail, the co-ordinator for North Beach in Durban, works with about seven cooks, each of whom works on alternate days. The cooks specialise in rasam (soup), or king’s soup, a traditional South Indian home remedy known for its immune-boosting properties. The tangy, spicy soup is rich with ginger and garlic, tamarind and chilli.

“We get calls every day from people who need water, who need soup, oxygen. Our funding comes from the community. Some of the cooks make two litres of soup, some of them 20 litres, each according to their capacity. We’ve had people donating stoves, packaging, whatever they can,” said Ismail. 

“Yesterday somebody dropped off menthol crystals. That will also go into the bags. When we dropped off somebody’s meal yesterday, he said he has a packaging company, and they have given us 300 buckets with lids.”

Ismail said it was impossible to say how many people her team have fed.

“It’s hard to say because there is so much demand. It’s amazing how so many people have come together for the same cause. We lose people every day, so I think that many people have had a wake-up call,” Ismail said.

Anyone wanting to assist the Soup for the Sick network in any way can contact Hawa Patel on 082 920 0773

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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