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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Bushfire recovery one year on

The idea that the bushfire recovery efforts one year on have our coastal neighbours recovered and moved into new homes is a misconception, according to the national online charity GIVIT, who say that has happened for only a very small number of people.

GIVIT is a needs-specific charity brought onboard by the NSW Government in January to take away the headache of unsolicited donations entering affected areas.

GIVIT regional manager for the ACT and South East NSW, Caroline Odgers, said these donations were dumped at evacuation centres, charities and even on people’s properties as the fires were still burning.

“GIVIT provides a coordinated approach to donation management to ensure frontline services get what they need, when they need it,” she said.

Since January, GIVIT has coordinated almost 300,000 items to support the rebuilding of NSW communities; from gas ovens and converted shipping containers for families camping on their properties to hardware and snake bite first aid kits for towns with distant medical assistance.

Caroline said one year on from the fires, the majority of GIVIT’s clients were still unsure of their future.

“They don’t know whether to stay on their land in temporary accommodation, rebuild from scratch or move away altogether,” Caroline said.

“Almost 12 months on, we’re still receiving requests for donations to get power and water onto people’s properties.”

While the thought of losing everything is overwhelming, Caroline said it was often the simple things that made a huge difference to a person’s recovery – such as a piece of beekeeping equipment for a gentleman to rebuild his livelihood, or a pair of school shoes for a child to go to school feeling confident.

Caroline reflects on the most powerful donations she has had “the privilege” of coordinating, including that of a retired couple who sold up in the city to start a new life on the NSW South Coast.

They joined the local RFS, completed basic firefighting training and literally weeks after moving into their new home, which they had renovated over a couple of years, the fires tore through and they were forced to defend their property.

Their caseworker said months later, they were waking up in the middle of the night worried a fire had started in the darkness.

To compound this, because of COVID they were unable to receive support from their family.

Caroline said this couple didn’t ask for much, just trestle tables, some bags of cement and fairy lights, to make their makeshift accommodation a little more comfortable.

She also tells the story of a small school in the Bega Valley that was inundated with donations, mostly with items they didn’t really need.

Caroline said when donations began to slow, they came to GIVIT with a few key items to support their students’ recovery, as every child at the school had been impacted.

“Some kids had been playing up in class, so we sourced outdoor furniture and bean bags so they could move lessons outside,” Caroline said.

“They also identified sport as a positive outlet for their anxious energy, so we sourced a basketball hoop.”

An elderly couple in the Shoalhaven lost their home, belongings, and a loved one during the fires.

Their caseworker made a request through GIVIT for a dinner or accommodation voucher to add a little joy to their lives, after such a devastating year.

Within a week, a donor from a corporate in Sydney donated an accommodation and dinner voucher to a local winery.

Caroline said it was donations like these that showed fire-affected communities they had not been forgotten, and people were still thinking of them.

GIVIT still needs more than 5,000 donations across fire-affected communities. In addition to essential items such as water tanks, generators and hardware to support rebuilding, there has been a surge in donation requests to assist people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Caroline said items such as canoes, surfboards, musical instruments and trampolines are all needed right now.

Donors can head to givit.org.au, search for these requests and pledge the item or funds for GIVIT to purchase the item. Or they can donate to GIVIT’s NSW Bushfires Appeal at GIVIT.org.au/nsw-bushfires.

100% of donated funds GIVIT receives are used to purchase items, from local businesses wherever possible.

GIVIT encourages all charities and community groups supporting bushfire-affected communities to register with GIVIT for free, so they, too, can request and receive the specific items their communities need.

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