Crew with a Cause: The Blessing Project

16 August 2019 By Laura Dunn

When Johannes and Shelley Viljoen left the yachting industry as crewmembers in 2012, they decided their priority was to help others.

After realizing how privileged they are, they left yachting to make a difference, “as we no longer knew the value of money or of what was happening in the real world,” Shelley says. “We both felt so disconnected from reality and we knew we needed to make a change or be sucked into a meaningless existence of money.”

They moved to South Africa and started Farm Fresh Direct, an online farmers’ market that provides home deliveries straight from the farms. Although this remains their primary business, they are also dedicated to The Blessing Project, a non-profit they started in February that feeds and cares for the homeless and works to develop opportunities for them.

Because the couple wants to reach out to those in need, Johannes says they knew they needed to go further than local businesses and individuals and used their Farm Fresh website to pursue global support. They have now officially launched The Blessing Project as a full-fledged non-profit organization. As part of this, they utilize hamper distribution with a large supermarket brand so people can buy a hamper for a family — as opposed to donating “just” money that could go anywhere.

As ex-yachties, the Viljoens know how demanding life at sea can be. “Even though you get paid well, you really do work hard for that money,” says Shelley. “We also know that at the end of the charter/trip, you deserve a drink or two to relax — what we are asking is, could you forfeit a handful of drinks for good, to feed a family of four for a month for less than a few rounds at the bar?”

Instead of making a donation, the Viljoens are looking for people who are willing to buy a minimum of 10 hampers, which they will then distribute as needed. “We would love the owners, captains, and crew to buy hampers if and when they can, but not only that, our dream would be for a captain and crew to commit for a period of time and we can identify the people they will be feeding so we can give personalized updates and feedback,” says Shelley.

Johannes, whose last charge was as first mate aboard M/Y Lady Joy, spent eight years in yachting. Shelley, whose last position was as purser on board M/Y Lady Britt, was in the yachting world for over 14 years. “I did one more season on Lady Britt in the Med before realizing that love was winning my heart more than yachting,” says Shelley.

The now-married couple met in 2008 after a friend introduced them, and they got married in 2014 in between yacht seasons (so their friends could make it). This was two years after they left yachting in 2012.

“Leaving yachting was a massive step, and there are times [we] wish one of us had stayed,” says Shelley, “but then you are able to be handing out food to someone who has nothing and then life really has perspective.”

Their daughter is also a huge inspiration for what they’re doing. “When I see everything we can give to her and then on the way to creche, there are kids who are visibly in need, it does make your heart and head hurt,” says Shelley. While there are struggles in South Africa, she wants her daughter to understand that her circumstances allow her to share. “We need to be the love for someone else who may never [have] had any; we want her to think that helping others is normal rather than something to be praised for,” she says.

If you’d like to contribute to The Blessing Project, go to and click on “The ‘Blessing’ Project” tab to be taken to various buying options, ranging from a one-week hamper that feeds a family of four for a week (R175/$12) to a four-week hamper that feeds a family of four (R550/$38).