This Is The Power Of Community In The Face Of Disaster (Aussie Bushfires)

How global and local communities are rallying together. What you can do to help us. And thank you.

Illustration by Cynthia Marinakos.

“You guys in Lakes Entrance? Some evacuations happening around there… the main road in and out of the Princes Highway was likely to be affected by fires on Monday. The Great Alpine Road, the other road out of East Gippsland, is already closed due to bushfires.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Kevin Parkyn said a wind change in East Gippsland about midnight on Sunday night is “very problematic when it comes to fires and the landscape…It’s a very serious life-threatening situation.”

Maybe leave tonight! There are 30,000 ppl in the area.”

At 11 pm on a Sunday late in December, I sent a barrage of text messages to my brother and sister-in-law. They’d gone away for the weekend with my young niece and nephew to Lakes Entrance, a popular holiday destination in Victoria.

They packed and were safe at home by 6 am on Monday morning, before the forecasted disastrous heatwave hit.

My business accountability partner Tatyana and her family live in the Blue Mountains in NSW.

“…our town has fire threat!! Had to pack bags at 2am this morning to be ready to evacuate… oh man. Just want it to get peaceful again.”

Other relatives had to evacuate with a fire burning across the road. Shockingly, that fire was deliberately lit.

Thankfully they returned safely to a standing home a few days later.

Others have not been so fortunate.

Take a look at givit.org.au and you’ll see specific needs from people whose lives and livelihood have been devastated by the fires:

For instance:

Tractor Battery and Oil — Heavily pregnant young mother and family affected by the bushfires (Rosedale, QLD)

Bunk Bed — Family who have lost everything in the bushfires (Garran, ACT)

Shed — Elderly couple who lost everything in the 2019 fires (Yeppoon, QLD)

Bottling Equipment for Olives — Farmer who lost everything in a fire (Warwick, QLD)

Support To Put Up Fencing — Gentleman lives alone and house has been impacted by several fires (Rosedale, QLD)

Screenshot: Items requested by families in need on Givit.org.au. Accessed: 22 Jan 20.

Every few weeks I get texts from friends in Canada, Germany, and the US, asking how we’re doing. I’ve also received touching messages of concern from the Medium community.

Yes, the fires are wreaking havoc across my home state and across Australia.

Yet what it has also done is shown us the meaning of community. Of friendship. Care. Generosity. Kindness. Resourcefulness. Love.

What the fires have shown us is that the world won’t sit around looking on while families suffer from loss and disaster recovery teams work around the clock to battle the furious fires — and to take care of those in need.

Internationals donate firefighting resources

Firefighters and specialists from New Zealand, Canada, UK and U.S. have stepped in to give relief to our exhausted firefighters and incident management teams.

On Medium, the UK Ministry of Defence shares the experience of a Royal Navy pilot evacuating people trapped by the fires. Royal Navy helicopter pilot, Lieutenant Commander Nick Grimmer’s thoughts of the fire:

“The scale of the fires are phenomenal and the devastation is truly horrific. At times it seems the entire horizon is on fire with flames up to 50 or 60 feet high.”

And the New Zealand Defence Force tells us where the extra New Zealand firefighters they sent in to fight the fires have been deployed.

Celebrities throw their support behind the cause

Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth and his family contributed a million dollars and is rallying more support on his bushfire fundraising page.

Screenshot: Chris Hemsworth’s Twitter post.

Singer Pink donated $500,000 to our local fire services.

Screenshot: Pink’s Twitter post.

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres started a GoFund Me page with a $5 million dollar target. So far more than 1.7 million has been raised from 23,700 donors.

Aussie tennis player Nick Krygios is donating $100 for every ace hit, which will be doubled by Grill’d burgers.

Screenshot: Nick Kyrgio’s Facebook post.

It’s wonderful to see celebrities using their fame for good. Next, I’d love to share with you what you may not hear about if you live outside Australia: what small local Aussie communities are doing for the cause. What businesses and individuals are doing in my local community.

How my local Aussie community is doing its bit

Owner of Grill’d in Point Cook, Brett Carman led a mighty fundraising effort with his team a few days into 2020.

“‘Hi Cookies, there’s a smokey haze over our town which is a sobering reminder of what some of our fellow Victorians are going through. It’s devastating and we wanted to do something to help. We’ve also got a close bond with our local CFA and we know the sacrifices they are making.”

The team donated the sale price of every MIGHTY MELBOURNE burger to the bushfire relief fund via Bendigo Bank.

Screenshot: Brett with the firefighters outside his restaurant in our local shopping strip. Source: Point Cook Residents Facebook page.

The Base Restaurant staff donated their time to raise as much money as they could in 4 hours — with 100% of all pizzas sold donated directly to the bushfire appeal.

“Thank you everyone, today we proudly deposited $3367.05 to the Victorian Bushfire Fund! The night would not have been possible without the help of Point Cook Dining, Point Cook Residents, Virgona, Thats Amore Cheese, the staff who dedicated their time and everyone who attended to support a great cause. Aussie mateship at its best, everyone should be extremely proud!”

Grace van der Reit and Anita Khokhar from Helping Hampers banded together to collect supplies for bushfire-affected animals through The Rescue Collective. They included items such as bat wraps and baby wipes, which they tell us is “great for baby wildlife!”.

“It’s so hard sitting back and watching our fellow Australians go through so much devastation. Our hearts go out to the incredibly brave firefighters, heroes and people and animals who have had to brave this trauma with so many having lost their homes, livelihoods & loved ones.”

That’s Joanne McGarry from Diamonds in The Sky Photography. Rather than sit back, Joanne ran an auction for a photoshoot worth $695 — raising $400 for the CFA and Vinnies.

Then there’s Brydon and Jenna from Back to Fitness. They invited the community to their studio to do 1 burpee for every $1 raised — they’d already raised $47,700 at that point. After the event, they shared a video summary on Facebook:

“🐺VIDEO SUMMARY OF THE DAY🐺

An amazing effort by the Back on Track Fitness community in raising just shy of $50,000. All funds have been directly donated to the Salvation Army Disaster Relief Fund to help those affected by the fires rebuild their lives.

We could not have done it without all the incredible support from friends, family and the wider community for all their generosity to a cause which will no doubt go down as one of the worst natural disasters in history.

We are only $2,000 shy of the 50,000 mark, so if you would like to help us to reach our goal, please feel free to donate via the below link 😊https://www.facebook.com/donate/3172224819458957/?fundraiser_source=external_url

Screenshot: Video of the burpee session. Source: Back on Track Fitness Facebook page.

Other local business fundraisers:

Bootcamp for Bushfire Relief, a joint fundraiser by Jump Into Life Personal Training, Tough Club Fitness, Precision Personal Training & Lizard Fitness for the Salvation Army Disaster Appeal: raised over $1,400.

Queen Cs Brows for Bushfires: 1$ per brow donated to CFA Victoria, matched donations.

WellFit4MUMS: all funds from silent auctions and $5 per group fitness pack sold.

Light & Glo Designs: 100% of all profits in January, matched donations.

My Mindful Year: $10 from every Pliary (planner and diary) sold to the Red Cross between the 2nd and the 5th of January.

These are only a handful of the many creative initiatives run by proactive and heartfelt locals.

I know all this because of what I contribute to the local community: writing for the community newspaper alongside other volunteer writers.

When the news is turned off and you go back to your daily routines, spare a thought for the many who are working tirelessly to fight the fires — and also to get families devasted by the fires back on their feet.

If you’re wondering what happens to people who are forced to leave their homes, have a quick read of Australian Red Cross’s Life inside a bushfire evacuation centre. They shared this post on Medium during a bushfire in 2018.

And finally, if you’d like to help, below are a few ways you can make a difference.

Organizations that need your support

These organizations directly help communities affected by the fires — here’s a brief rundown on what they need, and what they will do with your donation.

Firies

CFA (Country Fire Authority)

Donations will help 1/ Affected families and communities (100% of funds donated will go to communities). 2/ Support the wellbeing of the volunteer firefighters. 3/ Continue the work they are doing to protect lives and property in Victoria. 4/ Help CFA Brigades fund their work in the local community. www.cfa.vic.gov.au

Families

GIVIT

GIVIT is a national not-for-profit that helps us donate according to the specific needs of people affected by the bushfires. For instance, when we last looked, the register showed a family who lost their home needed a bunk bed, and a farmer who lost everything needed a shed. It’s free for charities and donors to list and donate, with an updated list of what’s currently needed and a bit about the people who need it. www.givit.org.au

Gippsland Emergency Relief

Many of the fires in Victoria are in Gippsland, a rural area. This is a registered charity set up to give immediate short-term funds to Gippslanders affected by natural disaster events such as the fires. It’s run by volunteers with all donations returned to the community. www.gerf.org.au

Salvation Army Emergency Services (SAES)

A network of 3,000 personnel, including trained volunteers, working four to eight-hour shifts on a 24-hour rotation. The team has prepared and serviced more than 225,000 meals to first responders and evacuees. They’ve also given $10 million of financial counseling and $40 million in emergency aid such as food vouchers, utility bills, clothing, petrol, and other basics. www.salvationarmy.org.au

St Vincent De Paul Society

Examples of what your donation can help with:

$50 “can provide food for a family who have been evacuated from their home.”

$150 “can help with bills and unexpected expenses for a household recovering from a bushfire.”

$300 “can provide clothing for a family who’ve had to leave their belongings behind.”

$1,100 “can help those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed to set up again with bedding, furniture and appliances.” www.vinnies.org.au

Animals

RSPCA Victoria

Donations will help rescue and treat animals most affected by the fires — includes equipment and supplies for the field to help animals injured or in distress from the fires. Their Mobile Animal Care Unit helps animals in distress for as long as needed. All the money raised will be directed to bushfire response initiatives. www.rspcavic.org

Thank you

Thank you for your support, no matter how you’ve chosen to help: coordinating volunteers, supplies, sharing on social, donating your business services, running events, covering fuel costs, bidding at auctions, checking in on friends, families, and colleagues, even though you may be overseas.

Thank you for keeping all involved in the bushfires in your thoughts.

The number of ways the local and international community have helped — and offered to help has been amazing. The creativity, passion, and resourcefulness behind every initiative is incredible. Every little bit helps. Thank you!

The way people have come together highlights the spirit of communities in sharing compassion, generosity, kindness, action, and love.

This is the power of community in the face of disaster.

Aussie Copywriter. I love rock climbing high ceilings and hiking amongst ferns >> 10 Proven ways to attract more Medium readers: https://bit.ly/3g2e2xx

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