Opening days at the Knit-a-Square barn in Johannesburg happen on a Tuesday and are always rewarding. With mail arriving continuously from overseas, and quantities of squares and toys brought in by local knitters, we volunteers get to experience something like Christmas every week! This blog gives you a glimpse into what happens after your parcels arrive. I hope to paint vivid word pictures of all the goings-on and to share the warmth we feel when we receive your wonderful contributions. Happy reading everyone!being
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Thank you for such a 'colourful', informative report, Leanne. Hi to Kim.
Wow! It only seems like yesterday that Ronda last received 7000 squares from St. Stithians. What a fabulous school community.
Visiting the barn this week, Bongi and I found the volunteers hard at work sorting squares from the St Stithians prep school donation. Liz had brought along her granddaughter Emily and Emily's friend Jade to help, both being Grade 6 pupils at the school and keen supporters of the project. The squares that came in were very varied in size and shape so the extra help was greatly appreciated.
On the subject of the size and shape of squares, we are always tremendously grateful when members send in standard-sized 20 cm x 20 cm squares as called for on the website. It makes sorting them into blanket packs so much easier. When time is saved on matching sizes, the volunteers can put their effort into creating beautiful colour combinations and matching similar yarn weights. Best of all is when a member sends in at least 5 identical standard-sized squares as these can be incorporated as the basic building blocks of a blanket, pulling the rest of the squares together into an attractive composition.
Ronda reported to me that she is in the process of selling their big family home in order to downsize into a smaller place. Naturally, there is years of accumulated clutter to sort through, including bookkeeping files for Knit-a-Square dating back seven years as per the Receiver of Revenue's stipulations. Ronda was happy to move all the files out of her garage and into the barn where they take up very little space and are accessible if ever they are needed.
She also reported to me that a rat had been seen running across the floor last opening day. The last thing we want is a rat setting up home in our cosy blankets and giving birth to babies! Mindful of the environment, Ronda set out to find an ecologically-responsible solution and came up with a rat poison that is not toxic to owls, their chief predator. On eating the poison, the rat runs in search of water and can be caught by the Spotted Eagle Owl which is common in the suburbs of Johannesburg. Apparently, an owl won't eat a dead rat but looks out for rats which are running, hence the efficacy of the poison. Sorry if this description of rat repellants disturbs you but we have to protect our stock and all the hard work put in by our members!
This week's distributions comprised two batches of blankets and accessories going out to creches in Palm Springs, an area south of Johannesburg on the main road to Cape Town. I believe the total number of blankets being handed out was 120. Meanwhile, Mabel was packing blankets for a distribution in QwaQwa. This is an area located on the east of the former Orange Free State bordering Lesotho. It is a very cold region and the people are very poor, so we are thrilled to be able to bring a little cheer to the children through the generosity of our members across the world.
Another recent distribution worth mentioning was done in Alexandra by our newest volunteer, Yvonne. We have not been able to distribute much in that area before because it is reputedly very dangerous for non-residents to enter. However, Yvonne lives there and knows who is in need of assistance. Her distribution was well received and we look forward to doing more in the future.
Yvonne told me she heard about Knit-a-Square through the internet. A keen crocheter, she was looking online for inspiration when she came across the KAS website. She called Ronda and was warmly welcomed to attend an opening day at the barn. That was three months ago and Yvonne has not missed a single week. At 24, she lives with her brother and his child. Neither of them have jobs on account of the severe unemployment problem and live off social grants plus occasional money from their parents in Mozambique. Yvonne is using her time to help others and broaden her experience. She is a valued member of our Johannesburg team.
Thank you for this lovely recount of your visit to the Barn, Leanne. Best wishes to Ronda in the sale of her home.
Yvonne is a treasure and very generous with her time. I hope, for her sake, that she finds employment.
When Bongi and I arrived at the barn this week we found it unusually quiet. Themba had not yet arrived with the volunteers who travel with him from Soweto and everyone else was occupied with their own work. Even Ronda was busily working on lists at her desk and there was no music playing or phones ringing. It made me realise how lively the group from Soweto actually is compared to the rest of us!
Not that everyone was sad or unfriendly. On the contrary, there was much expectation in the air. Once I had found my chair and settled Tango, Ronda whispered to me that Estelle had brought a gorgeous pecan nut and toffee cake for an extra-special celebration. In addition to marking Athele's birthday, we would be congratulating her and Larry on their engagement.
Then came the anticipated sound of the van's engine, accompanied by loud laughter and conversation as the Soweto contingent streamed through the open barn door. Hugs were exchanged as everyone greeted each other, and the volunteers hurried to their spots at the long table. Nani was due to go out with Themba to do a distribution to 70 children in Orlando East, so she collected the bags that she had put aside last week and entered the details in the book. Then came another flurry of action as Ath and Larry came in, bearing bags of completed blankets from Ath's friends.
At the time, Bongi and i were laying out a batch of blankets which had come in from a gogo group, building a cake on the carpet. Just as we finished, two young men arrived with several more bags of blankets which they added to the pile. Soon it reached three feet high. The young men left with bags of blanket packs which they would be delivering to a gogo group for sewing up.
Celebratory songs were sung, candles were lit and blown out, and then we all dispersed to our places for tea and cake. Ronda and I had a long chat about finances, as it is that time of year when things get very tight and the bank balance creeps worryingly low. As trusting as Ronda is in God's provision, she admits to deep concern over our fixed costs, in particular, costs pertaining to stipends. Knit-a-Square is a charity organisation run by volunteers, yet it has always been the board's policy to pay a stipend to our driver and the five Sowetan board members. In addition, Ronda has provided these volunteers with a small weekly allowance for food.
The problem, she says, has been obtaining shop slips to support the payment of the food allowance as required by the auditor. To circumvent this issue, she has decided to increase the basic stipend and do away with the food allowance altogether. In addition, the volunteer who goes out in the van to visit gogo groups or distribute blankets will receive extra that day. Thus, the money that volunteers receive will be linked directly to their involvement in the work of Knit-a-Square.
We wish to reassure members that most of our volunteers don't actually take home any stipend, and Ronda herself is a shining example of working for the love of it. However, we have to recognise the fact that these stipendiary members are key when it comes to connecting with gogo groups and informal creches. None of us who live in the suburbs have nearly the same degree of contact with vulnerable children and their caregivers as do Wandi, Lindi,Mabel, Nani and Vivienne.
Thank you, Leanne for another informative report. We also thank Ronda for, as always, trying to stretch every dollar that is received in donations.
CONGRATS to Ath and Larry. xo
Bongi and I visited the barn this week without Tango because Tango was at home babysitting. We have a new bulldog puppy named Tolkien and I didn't want to leave him alone at home. So, Tango did her duty and lay with Tolkien on the grass, rolling tennis balls and chasing butterflies, while we drove to Ferndale and sorted squares.
We arrived just after Shirley, a long-standing volunteer, drove away. In Ronda's words, Shirley lost her mojo about two years ago following a break-in at her home during which three armed men stole her blind. Shirley herself wasn't harmed but the incident upset her enough to make her sell her house and move into a block of flats. Her new neighbours are amazing and have involved her in all sorts of interesting activities, with the result that she is now happier than ever before. She came in yesterday to drop off several completed blankets and take away a big bag of blanket packs to sew up.
Wandi and Themba went out to do field work in the Dalmas area. The van was loaded with over ninety blanket rolls, each roll comprising a set of hand-warmers, a beanie and a soft toy rolled in a squishy blanket. Two creches were being targeted as recipients for the gifts and, as usual, the children were treated with fresh fruit and encouraged to see themselves as precious in the eyes of God.
Ronda reported to me that she has explained the new payment method to the board members and it has been well received. Essentially, she is trying to satisfy the auditor by matching expenditure with actual costs, such as lunch for the volunteers and field trips to visit gogo groups and creches. Being a non-profit, it is very important that we comply fully with the regulations.
Ronda also updated me on the situation at the post office. We are still being charged an average of R2600 per week to collect parcels and this is set to continue indefinitely. Unlike most first world countries, South Africa's postal service cannot function without levying fees on parcels arriving from overseas, in spite of the fact that senders have already paid for shipping on their side. i believe it has something to do with the post office having to repay debt owed to the state, as the post office is a separately-run state-owned enterprise which has been mismanaged for years. Knit-a-Square is extremely grateful that many of our members have come to our assistance in this regard and made donations to cover the postage fees and/or tried to reduce the number of parcels by packing more items in a single box.
Please remember never to insure your parcels as this incurs an additional levy over and above the standard handling fee. It makes no difference whether you write "For charity" all over the parcel; if there is a label saying that the goods inside are valuable, someone will see fit to slap a charge on it. Knit-a-Square simply cannot afford to pay these extra charges, which means the insured parcels have to be returned to the central depot. An appeal then needs to be made for the extra levy to be removed and the process can take months. Ronda summed the situation up by saying, "Perversely, if you insure your parcel, you practically guarantee that it won't arrive safely." The majority of people don't insure their parcels at all and we've had only one box that failed to reach us eventually.
Some lovely squares arrived from Australia this week, and a lot from the United States. I also saw some exceptionally bright and beautiful blankets sent over from japan by Julie Harrington. Christine Chiplain's blankets and toys on the cow theme also drew admiration and squeals of delight. The blanket cake grew quickly over the course of the morning, promising that our near-empty shelves will soon be full again.
Thank you so much for this most informative update, Leanne. xo
Great read, thank you X
Thanks Leanne for the update.
I am delighted to know that my blankets and toys have arrived in SA and you liked them in the KASbarn!