Majors Di and Rusty Lawson are Salvation Army rural chaplains, working in the drought-impacted north of New South Wales. They’ve been working with the local community to help farmers in need.
You’ve been involved in the RUAWAREWECARE initiative helping local communities. Can you tell us what that has involved?
We’ve been assisting with the community forums that are designed to bring local farming families together with both federal and state departments to make sure they are aware of what assistance is available, and to give farmers information.
We’ve held five forums in Attunga, Narrabri, Moree, Inverell and Glen Innes. They have ranged in size from 70 farming families represented at the smallest through to 160 families at the largest. That averages at least 100 per day and more than 500 plus families in total.
Some families couldn’t attend because they were feeding stock but other families made sure they were represented and took hampers to deliver to their neighbours.
So the forums have also provided immediate assistance?
The program has also been collecting donations of funds and goods. The Salvos have been asked to oversee the distribution of funds and hampers across the region, and we’ve done 16,500 km since the end of April.
Community response has been incredible, not only from farming communities but people in the town who have been coming up to us to give cash donations and asking how they can further assist, willing to do whatever they can.
What else have you been doing outside the forums?
Our role is to meet people at their time of need, to give them the emotional support they require and to provide a listening ear. If they don’t want to talk it may just be to give them hampers and funds and send them off with a blessing.
The most important thing we can do is make sure that those who are impacted know that people do care and they are not alone in this. That’s the key message we want people to have.
How can people at home help out?
We are trying to encourage financial donations where we can. With the distances involved, donations of goods can present a logistical headache of actually getting out there. There is also a limitation of how much weight we can actually get in a vehicle.
With financial donations we can do EFT or send out cash cards via mail, though we do follow-up visits to provide support as soon as we can. The public’s generosity not only supports the farmers but also the local communities and businesses around them.
It’s all connected, so when farmers are struggling, everyone does. We are doing everything we can to be there for those in need and together as a community we will get through this.