Local Heroes 2023: Captain Mark McKerry goes beyond call of duty to help community

The heartbreak of seeing people go to bed on empty stomachs inspired police Captain Mark McKerry to help those in need. Described as someone who goes beyond the call of duty, McKerry is known for his volunteer work in several communities.

His passion to assist others stems from having come from a disadvantaged background himself and his 34 years of being a policeman.

“I grew up with five siblings in Duncan Village, which is known for its history of poverty,” McKerry said.”

I experienced how poverty affected people and friends who would go to bed on empty stomachs.

“It would break my heart to see my friends without any food.”

His late mother used to provide meals for homeless children and the elderly, which inspired him to start a soup kitchen. “A number of people in 2019 got violently [from] West Bank and were later sheltered at a community hall, the Billy Francis Hall.

“That is where I started donating school shoes, blankets, stationery, bedding, clothes and some food to the people.”

Family and friends contributed to the donations.

“The majority of the people who were evicted were unemployed, they relied on social grants.

“I took it upon myself to sustain these people’s livelihoods. The initiative then expanded to Parkside, Pefferville and Parkridge.”

McKerry helps feed about 300 people including children in Egoli and Pefferville.”There is a huge problem in our communities, children are hungry.

“It breaks my heart seeing young children starving on the streets. I do it from the bottom of my heart to make a difference.”

It breaks my heart seeing young children starving on the streets. I do it from the bottom of my heart to make a difference

He provides weekly meals, which are often the only meal many eat in a day. “I spend about R1,000, I use my personal finances and donations from people.

“I am also planning on starting a book drive, I have already got a source from Makhanda who will be donating books.

“My dream is for youth to empower their minds by reading and staying in school instead of being involved in criminal activities,” McKerry said.

Cindy Williams said: “He has been exposed to extreme situations throughout his career.

“His volunteering projects, just to name a few, were the remarkable garden project at DJ Sobeys retirement home in Buffalo Flats.

“He also hosted an Easter egg drive that put beautiful smiles on the children’s faces from Parkside all the way to Buffalo Flats.”

Williams praised McKerry for his efforts in assisting the displaced families during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“He was one of the first responders from the time the families lived in tents right up till they moved to Billy Francis Hall.

“The manner in which he restored dignity within those uncertain times was heartwarming as he even hosted a Christmas Party at the Billy Francis Hall for the families and children.”

She said when the families were eventually placed in temporary shelters, McKerry knew the challenges they faced, which prompted him to start his weekly soup kitchen.

“He named the kitchen after his late mother Emmelda as she had always been his pillar of strength.

“The soup kitchen feeds the elderly to children. I have never known him to turn his back on his community or anyone.

“There has never been a task too big or small for him, from assisting with GBV cases to arranging farewell dresses and platters for two young ladies to have a memorable matric farewell,” Williams said.