Switch to desktop Register Login

#VolunteersActFirst – Food for Life South Africa

The theme of this year’s International Volunteer Day, “Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere.” is an opportunity to raise awareness on the role that volunteers play as first responders in times of crisis.

To take this conversation forward, Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa has chosen to highlights and interview first-responder organisations in South Africa. Our first interview is with Food for Life South Africa.

Food for Life - pic

What is the mission of your organisation?

The mission of Food for Life is the eradication of hunger and malnutrition in South Africa irrespective of race, religion or cultural divide. Food for Life is a non sectarian and non-discriminating organisation that respects all religions and cultural traditions. It is essentially managed by volunteers from all religious and racial backgrounds, who are involved in programmes in South Africa and all over the world. The vision of Food for Life is to eradicate hunger and malnutrition through the daily mass distribution of freshly prepared meals across South Africa. To become the leading humanitarian organisation in the country by creating a hunger free society in South Africa through free food distribution, driven by principles of integrity and purity.

What role does your organisation play in responding to disasters? 

Essentially, the consistent provision and distribution of freshly prepared culturally acceptable meals to the victims.

Which disasters in South Africa has your organisation recently been involved with? 

Food for Life South Africa has responded to fire disasters in informal settlements, forest fires and flood disasters across South Africa. We have also responded to calls for feeding during the xenophobic attacks in KwaZulu-Natal.

Food for life distributes about 10 000 plates of freshly prepared warm meals to schools, hospitals, orphanages and old age homes, daily.

What challenges does your organisation face as first-responders during disasters?

Some of the key challenges that we face include the following points:

- Disaster areas are often no-access zone spaces, which creates logistical problems.

- The administrative loops that need to be completed can create a delay in accessing the victims.

- Communication about victims’ whereabouts, especially when they have been evacuated can be challenging.

What role do volunteers play within your organisation?

Our organisation is fundamentally run by about 250 regular volunteers. There are two streams of volunteers – first is the Board of Food for Life which constitutes the administrative wing of this organisation, and which ensures that the mission and vision as set out by the constitution is followed. The Board manages the different branches (25 hunger free zones across South Africa) and provides support in developing these branches. The second stream consists of volunteers who are engaged in different services which include raising of funds, buying of goods, cooking and distribution. 

Please provide key ways that individuals/companies/government organisations can assist in meaningful ways during times of disaster?

- Firstly, there should be a “disaster” emergency organisation which should be on call to arrive at the disaster scene with some immediacy and an assessment team to overview the situation.

- Secondly, a corporate collective fund developed to finance any volunteer initiative in reaction to the disaster needs.

- Thirdly, a communication team which calls out to organisations to assist in the different needs (food, clothes and other necessities).

- Another useful tool would be a database of all NGOs in South Africa. The database should include categories (food, clothes, counselling, temporary housing etc.), which can be easily accessed on a designated website.

What are your three top pieces of advice for volunteers when assisting NPO/NGO in disaster relief?

- Volunteers should work selflessly and should not expect any returns or gains - only the satisfaction of having completed a service.

- They should avail themselves at odd times and be agreeable to work through the hours to serve the sick, poor and hungry – an altruistic activity that benefits those who are less fortunate than ourselves.

- They should serve with love and care and promote goodness wherever they serve.


For more information on Food for Life South Africa, please visit