A WOONONA man’s effort to step-up and assist after the devastating NSW bushfires has so far resulted in $250,000 in aid delivered over a four week period to impacted South Coast residents.
Jeff Wallace said in early January he and a mate from Cootamundra, Justyn Smith put a call out to family and friends to collect donations of non-perishable items to assist those impacted by the bush fires.
“The response was overwhelming and we took load after load of donations direct to the communities by establishing local drop points with numerous Rural Fire Service captains and other community leaders,” Mr Wallace said.
Ahead of the first of two convoys on January 7, Mr Wallace placed announcements on social media that he and his band of helpers were coming with supplies. Other convoys then contacted Mr Wallace to ask where the best places were to take their donations.
“Local volunteers that reside in the impacted areas also reached out enabling more storage areas to be established and people on the ground to assist with delivering aid direct to the victims of this disaster,” Mr Wallace said.
“We found it more effective to take the supplies direct to the communities as the major evacuation centres were being inundated with supplies and these smaller townships were finding it difficult to receive the assistance they desperately needed.”
After Mr Wallace was contacted by Nina Covre, who also wanted to assist in the effort, it was decided the most effective way to bring volunteers together and work as a team was to create a Facebook Group.
The Bush Fire Relief South Coast NSW Facebook Group, with Nina as the main coordinator, has grown to over 240 members with more joining every day.
“With so many volunteers on-board enabled us to coordinate assistance to more and more families including those caring for the injured and displaced wildlife,” Mr Wallace said.
The group’s mission is to connect people and volunteers that can assist the devastated townships by providing aid such as clean up items, tools, generators, chain saws, pet food, veterinary medical supplies, livestock food, transport, caravans, fresh produce, storage facilities or by donating their expertise such as tradesmen. Mr Wallace and his band of volunteers are now assisting with the clean-up and re-build phases.
On Mr Wallace’s most recent trip to areas south of Eden – where it is estimated that more than 400 homes were lost – he and his wife, Malinee met with a local volunteer, who lost his home the flames, to distribute donations to the small community of Kiah and surrounding townships. Kiah is estimated to have lost close to 50 of 90 homes according to the locals.
“We also cleared out a storage facility we had in Eden and delivered items directly to families that had lost their homes, along with fire officer supplies to two RFS sheds,” he said.
“We were taken on a tour of Kiah and it was devastation of enormous proportion. The loss of property is heartbreaking.
“Locals Anthony McConnell, John Davidson and Julia Phillips, who all lost their homes requested we obtain photographs of some of the disaster and share them with the view of creating awareness with the wider community of the huge task being faced by these people, many who do not have insurance.
“I have spoken with these people at length and one of their biggest concerns is getting back on their land so they can commence the clean-up and rebuild phases. At the moment most are all staying in emergency accommodation a long distance from their properties.”
Meanwhile Mr Wallace was eager to promote what he says an ingenious method, devised by Kiah resident, John Davidson, of getting people back to their properties. However, he says the idea requires sponsorship due to the cost.
The concept is to have shipping containers, or Fire Emergency Relief Containers (FERCs) as they have been designated, fitted out with the bare necessities for residents to live onsite, with a generator, solar panels, camping shower/toilet and bed.
Mr Davidson has set up a go fund me page in an attempt to raise funds for the concept, with each container estimated to cost $10,000 to fit out.
“However this really requires corporate sponsorship from companies that supply the containers and the items needed to make them liveable and to enable more people access to them,” Mr Wallace said.
“Ideally if the State Government got behind this concept these FERCs could be used for future disasters to assist displaced homeowners in times of crisis.”
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