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The Meals on Wheels Extreme Cycle 4 Hunger Tour: A journey of courage, camaraderie and compassion

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This extraordinary endeavour epitomises the unwavering dedication of Meals on Wheels Community Services South Africa, a non-profit organisation founded in 1964.

Team spirit along the route was visible along the route. Picture: Danie van der Lith

A NICE, leisurely drive in your air-conditioned vehicle from Alberton in Gauteng to Cape Town in the Western Cape, via Kimberley in the Northern Cape could take around 15 hours to complete.

That’s quite a trip, but with some good music on your car’s sound system and regular rest stops, and perhaps an overnight stay along the way, those 15 hours, travelling at around 90-120km/h can be quite pleasant.

Now imagine travelling that distance, going at around 15-30km/h on a human-powered bicycle!

This is exactly what has been happening every year since 2016 with a group of committed cyclists making this trek every year; but not only for the sake of exercise. No, they are driven by a more humanitarian mission.

Back in 2016, an organisation called Meals on Wheels embarked on this groundbreaking initiative – to provide essential sustenance and support to those less fortunate.

It was then that the Meals on Wheels Extreme Cycle 4 Hunger Tour was born, quickly becoming an annual event firmly entrenched in their organisational calendar.

This extraordinary endeavour epitomises the unwavering dedication of Meals on Wheels Community Services South Africa, a non-profit organisation founded in 1964 by the late Dr Dennis Baird. The organisation has as its aim the eradication of hunger and poverty by attending to the basic needs of underprivileged communities.

This year, the Extreme Cycle 4 Hunger Tour started in Alberton on February 28 as the team embarked on a mission to deliver essential support to communities across various regions.

For three days the team traversed their way through Potchefstroom, Klerksdorp, Wolmaransstad, Bloemhof, Christiana, and Warrenton, and arrived in Kimberley, where cyclists from the Diamond City, as well as the DFA joined the trek.

The DFA is a proud media sponsor of the Meals on Wheels Extreme Cycle 4 Hunger Tour. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Early on the fourth day promptly at 5am, the team left Kimberley and covered the first 114km through the picturesque landscape of the Northern Cape. Their first stop was at KriViDu in Hopetown, a newly-constructed Early Childhood Development Centre.

One of the rooms in the newly build ECD Centre in Hopetown. Picture: Danie van der Lith

At KriViDu, the team not only delivered vital food parcels but also kitchen appliances, to bolster the daily operations of this vital community hub.

After Hopetown the team headed to their next outreach endeavour located in Britstown. The establishment called Gentle Care serves as a refuge for the terminally ill, providing solace and support during their most challenging times.

Time was spent interacting with some of the Gentle Care residents. Picture: Danie van der Lith

The team took some time to visit with some of the residents and spoiled them with a special, personalised gift. Each person in the house received a blanket with their name on it, something they could call their own.

One of the ladies from Gentle Care is seen holding her own personalised blanket. Picture: Danie van der Lith

As day five dawned, the determined team set their sights on Victoria West, with Huis Frieda Kempen as their designated stopover.

Upon arrival at Huis Frieda Kempen, the cyclists unloaded food parcels before venturing indoors to connect with the residents. Witnessing the gratitude emanating from the elderly affirmed the profound impact of their visit.

The team was seen having tea and coffee with the elderly at Huis Frieda Kempen. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Team members took their time to interact and speak to some of the residents of Huis Frieda Kempen. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Amidst the heartwarming exchanges, the cyclists were treated to a soul-stirring piano performance by one resident, showcasing resilience in the face of adversity. Despite partial mobility loss, her musical prowess remained undiminished, serving as a poignant reminder of the indomitable human spirit.

With the loss of mobility in her one hand, one resident of Huis Frieda Kempen spoiled the team with exquisite music. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Thereafter there was still quite a push for the team as their overnight stay was further down the highway, in Beaufort West.

On the sixth day of their arduous expedition, the team embarked from Beaufort West at the normal pre-dawn start. Despite facing the biting chill of the morning and contending with winds gusting sideways, the determined cyclists pressed forward.

Their destination for this day was the breathtaking Meiringspoort pass. The waterfall in the pass beckoned them with its natural allure. Upon arrival at the waterfall, some of the cyclists seized the opportunity to plunge into the refreshing waters of its pristine pool. For many this was their first visit to the rugged beauty of the towering, rocky landscape.

Some of the cyclists took the time to visit the waterfall at Meiringspoort. Picture: Danie van der Lith

However, this fleeting moment of respite was short-lived as their next stop, Eljada-Kairos School in Oudtshoorn, loomed on the horizon some 50 kilometres away, the team reluctantly bid farewell to the splendour of Meiringspoort.

The cyclists arrived at the Eljada-Kairos School bearing their usual gifts of food hampers and stationary packs, bringing joy and excitement to the eager learners. Engaging with the students, they shared moments of camaraderie, gifting rugby and soccer balls to fuel their sporting passions and joining in playful games with infectious enthusiasm.

The smiling children brought a warm feeling to everybody. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Despite the temptation to linger amidst such heartwarming scenes, the team remained mindful that time stops for no one on their journey to make a difference elsewhere.

The seventh day of their epic journey had the team pedalling a staggering 176 kilometres from Oudtshoorn to Karoo Daisy, where they paused for a well-deserved lunch break. Following this brief respite it was on to Montagu, where they sought solace for the night, recharging their weary bodies for the adventures that lay ahead, while their spirits remained positive.

Teachers are seen with some of the learners at the school. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Day eight saw the team conquering 101 kilometres before they reached their next destination: Mispah School. Nestled in the picturesque town of Elim, near the southernmost tip of Africa.

After spending time interacting with students at Mispah School, the team pedalled through the breathtaking landscapes of Gordons Bay, where they rested their weary bodies after completing an additional 145 kilometres.

Seen are some of the food parcells that were handed over. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Reflecting on their extraordinary journey, the cumulative distance traversed from the start of the Tour, with all detours included, amounted to an impressive 2,150 kilometres – an awe-inspiring testament to their unwavering commitment and tenacity.

And what lies ahead for the team?

Sunday, after the cyclists have already journeyed vast distances, will mark the start of the renowned Cape Town Cycle Tour. Their participation is testament to their enduring passion for cycling alongside their unwavering dedication to making a difference in the world.

In the end, the Meals on Wheels Extreme Cycle 4 Hunger Tour is more than just a ride; it is a testament to the enduring spirit of humanity, a beacon of hope in a world too often darkened by despair.

And as long as there are those willing to pedal for a purpose, the journey towards a brighter tomorrow will continue, one revolution at a time.

The unsung heroes

Yet there are other heroes that need to be acknowledged in this incredible humanitarian effort.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the Meals on Wheels Extreme Cycle 4 Hunger Tour, unsung heroes emerged in the form of the dedicated support staff, whose pivotal role cannot be overstated.

The support team played a big role in keeping the cyclists safe along the route. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Serving as the backbone of the operation, these individuals toiled tirelessly, ensuring seamless logistics and unwavering assistance for the cyclists along every mile of the journey.

Ahead of the cyclists, the support staff embarked on their own mission, meticulously preparing the mobile kitchens that would serve as lifelines for the riders.

The mobile kitchen was on display along the route. Picture: Danie van der Lith

From brewing hot coffee to arranging nourishing meals, snacks, and fresh fruit, they left no stone unturned in catering to the diverse needs of each cyclist.

Behind the scenes, the support staff manoeuvred the convoy of vehicles with precision, maintaining safe distances and providing a protective shield for the cyclists against the hazards of the road.

Their vigilance and dedication were instrumental in safeguarding the well-being of the entire team, exemplifying the essence of teamwork in its truest form.

The support team played a big role in keeping the cyclists safe along the route. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Meals on Wheels always out to make a difference

From its modest origins in East London, Meals on Wheels has blossomed into a global force, boasting numerous branches worldwide. Their mission is clear: to serve a warm meal to the elderly, ensuring that no one is left hungry or uncared for.

Bolstered by a dedicated fleet of trucks, Meals on Wheels delivers nourishment to over 700 service points, an astounding feat that saw them serve 46.6 million meals in 2023 alone.

The team is seen standing for a group photo at the N12 Halfway stop at Strydenburg. Picture: Danie van der Lith

Fueled by the support of volunteers and partners, Meals on Wheels continues to expand its reach, striving to augment its donor base and foster partnerships with businesses to effect real change within communities across South Africa.

During the 2024 the Meals on Wheels Extreme Cycle 4 Hunger Tour visited a number of institutions along the way; institutions providing a valuable, heartwarming service to the most needy and vulnerable in their communities.

KriViDu in Hopetown, a newly-constructed Early Childhood Development Centre aims to provide essential services for the children of workers in the community, ensuring they receive nourishment and education in the care of professionals ensuring that their parents have peace of mind while they fulfil their work obligations.

Further along the route, Gentle Care in Britstown offers palliative care to 32 patients in need. Founded by Ivonne Gentle in 2000, this haven extends a warm embrace to those without a place to turn or anyone to care for them.

Beaufort West’s Huis Frieda Kempen, an integral part of the ACVV network, extends a nurturing hand to the elderly and those with special needs. Their services encompass a spectrum of care, ranging from housing for the vulnerable to essential meal provision for those unable to fend for themselves.

Additionally, the organisation offers vital medical assistance, including blood pressure testing and physiotherapy, ensuring holistic support for their residents.

Down in the Western Cape, nestled in the heart of Oudtshoorn, Eljada Kairos School stands as a beacon of inclusivity and support for over 200 students grappling with physical and mental disabilities. The school’s unwavering commitment to its students is epitomised by its Autism Centre, established in 2021 to cater specifically to children on the autism spectrum, providing tailored education and continuous assistance.

Beyond academics, Eljada Kairos School extends its nurturing embrace with a hostel facility accommodating 70 children, offering them a home away from home.

However, amidst its commendable efforts, the school faces challenges in meeting the diverse needs of its students, including the provision of essential sporting equipment and toiletry packs for those residing in the hostel.

Picture: Danie van der Lith

Another stop for the Meals on Wheels team was at the Mispah School near the southern tip of Africa. This school serves as a bastion of hope for learners with special educational needs.

With a steadfast mission to equip these students with essential skills for their future roles as productive members of South African society, Mispah caters primarily to severely mentally disabled children, offering tailored education and support.

Cyclists are seen being recorded by a videographer. Picture: Danie van der Lith
The early morning sunrise casts the shadows of the cyclists on the road Picture: Danie van der Lith

Cyclists were pushing the limits at some stages along the route. Picture: Danie van der Lith
Team spirit along the route was visible along the route. Picture: Danie van der Lith
Picture: Danie van der Lith

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