Charities and volunteer opportunities: How to help the helpers this Mandela Day

03 Jul 2024
To commemorate the life and deeds of Nelson Mandela, in 2009 the United Nations declared his birthday, July 18, Nelson Mandela Day. It's an opportunity to celebrate and pay tribute to Mandela's lifelong fight for democracy, reconciliation, and social justice in South Africa. Every year on Mandela Day, ordinary citizens are encouraged to devote 67 minutes to charitable work, symbolic of the 67 years that Nelson Mandela served South Africa as an activist, prisoner, and later as South Africa's first democratically elected president.

However, it's important to consider whether our donations truly benefit the intended recipients. Sometimes, the items we donate, such as books and clothing, end up being unusable or burdensome for charities.

A post by Gail Scott Wilson on Instagram (@dizzylexa) shed light on this issue (July 2023). Wilson visited a local charity store and found an immense pile of books that filled a room, but were slowly being eaten by rats. It's a disturbing thought in a city that has so much need, and yet, as the conversation developed, it became clear that often charity organisations are handed a multitude of items that cannot be reused (yes, even books) and they may lack the resources to sort through and distribute these items, leading to damage and storage problems.

Experts we contacted emphasised the importance of asking first and ensuring that the chosen donation recipients can use the items as intended. It was suggested to visit the outlet first. 

Derek Smith, from the Read Educational Trust, explained in the comments on Gail's post that the lack of financial and time resources required to assess, organise, and distribute donated items often exceeds the cost of purchasing new ones. 

We reached out to Khensani Mohlatlole, a content creator and advocate for sustainable fashion and practises, for advice. Mohlatlole emphasised donating usable clothing, which means washing everything beforehand, because many charities and thrift shops lack the resources to clean donated items. It's also essential to carefully consider the quality of clothing and other items being donated. “A great thing to remember is that if you wouldn’t wear it, why should someone else,” Mohlatlole advises.

Regarding books, Mohlatlole suggests thinking about what your school librarian would say before donating them. Textbooks and schoolbooks should be donated directly to schools to provide students with free access. Additionally, it's wise to enquire if your local public library accepts donations.

To truly make a difference this Mandela Day, it's crucial to donate with clear direction and support ongoing campaigns run by reputable charities, so here's our list of charities and initiatives to ensure your contribution to celebrate Nelson Mandela is meaningful and sustainable.

If you want to help the helpers, here's a look at some organisations you can support.

67 Blankets for Mandela Day

67 Blankets broke the Guinness World Record in 2015 for the largest area covered by a blanket on the grounds of Pretoria's Union Buildings.
67 Blankets broke the Guinness World Record in 2015 for the largest area covered by a blanket on the grounds of Pretoria's Union Buildings. Photo: Peter Morey.

67 Blankets is a national movement dubbed the "knitting revolution for Mandela" that began in 2013 to honour the late president and has grown exponentially since. Knitting, sewing, or crocheting your own blanket to donate to the organisation is one of the ways you can get involved; squares and scarves are accepted too. For those less crafty, you can donate wool, hooks, or needles to the cause, or partner with a skilled knitter who lacks the means to purchase the necessary materials but has the time to make up blankets. Thousands of blankets have been donated to those in need to date, reaching beneficiaries far and wide.

On Thu, Jul 18 from 15:00, 67 Blankets will brighten Braam. If you head to Reserve Street in Braamfontein, you'll find it adorned with hand-knitted scarves for those in need as part of the Secret Scarves project. Those wanting to contribute can bring a hand-knitted scarf to hang up in the activation space. Find out more about 67 Blankets here

#67000L challenge by Chefs with Compassion

Chefs tackling hunger, one litre of soup at a time. Photo: Chefs with Compassion.

Chefs with Compassion challenges you to make as much soup as you can muster for Mandela Day and donate it to a beneficiary of your choice. Launched during the early days of the hard lockdown of 2020, the Chefs with Compassion movement sees corporates, hotels, restaurants, culinary schools, and home cooks joining forces with local NPOs to tackle hunger. The organisation also rescues foodstuffs from the Joburg Fresh Produce Market that are about to be discarded and distributes this to kitchens for chefs to cook into healthy and nutritious meals. In 2023, 104,360 litres of soup were donated, feeding 417,440 people. Register for the fifth edition of this special initiative here or donate to Chefs with Compassion here.

Build-a-backpack with Rosebank Management District and Rosebank Homeless Association

50 new backpacks donated by Southern Sun Rosebank. Photo: Rosebank Management District. 
The Immaculata Shelter, located at the Rosebank Catholic Church and managed by the Rosebank Homeless Association, is a rare shelter specifically catering to the homeless in Johannesburg's northern suburbs. During July, in partnership with Rosebank Management District, the association runs a build-a-backpack campaign for unhoused individuals who lack a place to call home and must carry their belongings with them. You can contribute by providing them with a durable backpack filled with essential items. These include clothing items such as shoes, socks, and beanies, and toiletries like bath soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant. Items like a bath towel, blanket, and laundry detergent are also welcome.

Donations can be dropped off at the charity box at the Rosebank Visitor Centre inside
Rosebank Mall, accessible through the Bath Avenue entrance. For more information about bulk donations, contact Basil on +27 71 764 1972. This initiative will continue until Wed, Jul 31. Find out more here.

Make a difference at the Johannesburg Children’s Home

The Johannesburg Children's Home in Observatory. Photo: Supplied.
The Johannesburg Children's Home (JCH) is a place of great importance in the city. It was founded in 1892, making it one of the oldest charitable institutions in Joburg. It has been a haven for scores of abused, neglected, traumatised, and abandoned children in the years since. Today, the JCH has a staff of over 50 – including 24 qualified childcare workers and two part-time therapists – all of whom are dedicated to creating a safe and loving environment in which children can thrive. The JCH celebrates Mandela Day throughout July. A special initiative is an annual art expo where art that's been made by the children is put on display and the public can buy. For 2024, the exhibition will take place on Thu, Jul 18 in their Westcott Hall from 09:00 – 16:00.

For other ways to get involved, you can support Thrift Up – a lovely thrift store off Norwood's Grant Avenue – where all proceeds support the JCH. Direct donations are always welcomed; if you're unsure what items are needed the most, you’ll find an up-to-date needs list on the website here. Alternatively, hire out the Westcott Hall, make use of the JCH catering service, get your laundry done, or give your time as a volunteer. Upon our recent visit to the JCH (April 2024) we found out more, read the story here

Frida Hartley Shelter for women and children in Yeoville

Yeoville's Frida Hartley Shelter strives to empower women with tailored counselling and skills training. Photo: Frida Hartley Shelter.

The Frida Hartley Shelter (FHS) has a maximum capacity of 40 women and children per month at their two-storey building in Yeoville. To sustain their operations, a daily amount of R157 (July 2024) per person is needed. When women first arrive at the shelter, they often have few possessions, and the non-profit shelter is always looking for donations of adult and children's clothing, blankets, nappies, toiletries, sanitary products, and cleaning agents. They also welcome corporate support in the form of job training programmes, internships, and employment opportunities. To learn more about their life-changing work and how you can contribute, visit their website here.

Mental health support with youth-led Mindfu(l) Organisation

The team behind Mindfu(l) Organisation, a youth empowerment initiative. Photo: Mindfu(l) Organisation.

Mindfu(l) Organisation, a youth-led initiative, strives to democratise mental health support in South Africa. Recognising the scarcity and exclusivity of mental health services, they aim to bridge the gap by offering accessible education and resources. Through informative talks, workshops, and social media content, they destigmatise mental illness and address contributing factors like family dynamics and gendered violence. Mindfu(l)'s services include a Peer Mentorship Programme, support groups, and Phone-a-Friend, fostering safe spaces for students to navigate their mental health and empowering youth with supportive communities. For more information and ways to get involved, visit their website here.

Sustainable tourism with Hero Holidays

Be a helping hand on your holiday. Photo: Hero Holidays.

Join Hero Holidays, a community organisation rooted in education that seeks to establish strong foundations for South Africa's youth. Sustainable development projects include infrastructure building, skills teaching, and early childhood programmes. By giving your time, you can support underprivileged communities with limited access to quality education, and connect deeply with diverse cultures. The minimum volunteering donation is two weeks; it's an immersive travel experience that enriches participants and local residents, creating impactful changes from small deeds. Witness the Big Five on safari or explore 3,000km of wild coastline with Hero Holidays, a fulfilling blend of service, cultural immersion, and adventure. Find out how you can have a holiday with an impact on their website here

Spread kindness with Ladles of Love

Fresh produce ready to feed South Africa's youth. Photo: Ladles of Love.

Ladles of Love isn't about providing meals only, it's about dignity, respect, and creating a better world for all. The organisation provides nutritious food for those who need it, supports farmers to grow wholesome food in an economical and sustainable way, and empowers food entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and create jobs, aiding in the development of South Africa's economy.

On Mandela Day, it's their goal to raise R5 million to nourish and nurture small children at early childhood development centres in impoverished communities. Each volunteer ticket is R200 and will provide a child with 40 healthy meals. Meanwhile, volunteering 67 minutes in service means you'll be making items to help grow the bodies and minds of youth in need, whether you're making sandwiches, crafting toys, or creating edible garden kits. Volunteer time slots start from 09:00 and the final slot starts at 16:00 on Thu, Jul 18 at Constitution Hill. Book your tickets here and find out more ways to get involved year-round on Ladles of Love's website.

Support the Bekezela Creche volunteers

The three volunteers of the Bekezela Creche in Newtown. Photo: BackaBuddy.

Established in March 2022 in the Bekezela informal settlement in Newtown, the Bekezela Creche is run by three volunteers from the community. Teachers Melphy Silwana and Funeka Mbadu and caretaker Justin Ngozo have been running the facility out of their own pockets since its inception, providing 30 children (July 2023) under the age of seven with access to early childhood development and safety from the violence in the community. Support them this Mandela Day with a monetary donation to help them continue creating a positive impact in the community. Find out more and donate here.

Host a Night of 1000 Drawings doodle session

A5s for a good cause at South Africa's art-for-charity initiative. Photo: Night of 1000 Drawings.

Night of 1000 Drawings is the largest art-for-charity exhibition in the City Centre. This fundraising initiative sees hobbyists and renowned artists alike donating A5 sketches, doodles, watercolours, and drawings. Throughout the year, doodle sessions are held around the city where you can create and donate works. Book your tickets here for the annual Night of 1000 Drawings exhibition at Victoria Yards on Sat, Sep 7. All the artworks are sold for just R200 each, with proceeds going to three Joburg-based charities. These include the community art counseling training centre Lefika La Phodiso, Hillbrow's Home for Hope, an inclusive shelter for the rehabilitation of girls, and Safe Study, an after-school enrichment programme operating in Lorentzville.

If you'd like to donate an artwork, volunteer your skills, or host a doodle session this Mandela Day, visit Night of 1000 Drawings' website for ways to get involved.


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