Nwabisa Ngumbela spent the day with one of Cape Town’s good Samaritans, Wendell Petersen, who uses his free time and own resources to feed the Mother City’s homeless and hungry
Before I even enter the Petersen household, I’m drawn in by the mouth-watering smell of chicken curry. One of Wendell Petersen’s volunteer chefs is cooking up a storm in preparation for their soup kitchen later in the day. ‘It smells divine,’ I tell Wendell as he welcomes me into his home. ‘We try to bring in different chefs to cook their speciality dishes,’ he explains.
The house is abuzz with activity; there are hip-hop artists, DJs, designers, chefs, children … everyone’s busy with their own little project. Still, they all have one goal in common: to better the lives of others. ‘It’s always more or less like this,’ explains Wendell before he begins narrating the story of how his business venture, Da Hustle Dog – and charitable endeavours – began.
After high school, Wendell wasn’t able to further his studies and couldn’t find
a job, so he had to take matters into his own hands to make ends meet. He started selling rotis from his bicycle and as the business grew, so did his need for better transportation. So, he transformed his father-in-law’s 1979 TÜV into a food truck and named it Da Hustler. It’s from this vehicle that he sells his dishes at music festivals. And it’s the money he makes from this business that helped him start a mobile soup kitchen four years ago that sees Wendell and his helpers travel to places such as Gugulethu, Belhar and Kuils River train station to feed the hungry.
Lunch for two
Long before the soup kitchen, though, Wendell had other ideas on how he’d bring much-needed smiles to Cape Town’s homeless community. His first project was called Table for Two, which Wendell says is very close to his heart.
‘I have always dreamt of taking a homeless couple on a date,’ he says. ‘And when I told my friends Hipe and Mr Ekse of this, they soon joined me on a search for a couple,’ recalls Wendell. ‘Two hours later, we found a couple at the Good Hope Centre. We set up a table with Champagne glasses and Appletiser. They told us how they met and why they’re homeless.’
It just gets better
It was just that encounter that made Wendell want to go even bigger and led to his idea for a soup kitchen. The kitchen is run three to four times each month. Sometimes it’s a stop and go, where they don’t go to specific areas, but drive around Cape Town stopping along the way to dish out food. ‘That way, we cover larger parts of town.’
No one-trick pony
While Da Hustle Dog is Wendell’s main focus, it’s an umbrella for projects such as Da Hustle Dog Entrepreneurs Feast, where 50 aspiring business people are invited to brainstorm their ideas. These events have led to projects such as the Kuilove Market and Kuils River Wetlands Project, a community-based ecological project focused in Kuils River. Its main aim is to bring back the wetlands, gone since a canal was built there.
These projects are run mainly by Wendell’s wife Bryony and her sister Taryn Mackay. ‘We would like to inspire change, and have people participate and support our cause, since it is their future too,’ explains Bryony. ‘Our dream is to de-canalise the canal and restore this beautiful place to what it once was. And the Kuilove project, just like Da Hustle Dog, is no one man’s jive; it’s a community of young people who are simply trying to bring about change.’
We do it for love
When asked why he does what he does, Wendell’s answer comes quickly: ‘I just want people to be happy every day.’ Simple, yet powerful words from a not-so-simple, powerful man who can teach all of us a thing about giving back to the community.