Salvation Army staff and volunteers stand alongside others on the road to recovery.
Children baking cakes and cookies to raise money for bushfire fundraisers; farmers trucking hay to fire-affected areas; local individuals, families, clubs and charities raising funds and donating goods and services; and people around the country and the world adding millions of dollars to disaster appeals — in so many places, people of all ages, stages of life and backgrounds are uniting to assist those impacted by the devastating Australian bushfires.
In many affected communities, people who had lost their homes and possessions became part of The Salvation Army volunteer catering teams, keen to assist others, even in the midst of their own losses.
There were reports of neighbours holding farewell parties for burned out homes, before helping each other step out on the long road to rebuilding and recovery; locals offering evacuees and those stranded a bed for the night; and restaurant staff showing up at evacuation centres with food.
And, of course, the selfless courage and tireless efforts of first responders — firefighters in particular — who have worked around the clock for months to fight fires and relieve suffering, will long be remembered and praised.
Despite the tragedy, or perhaps because of it, there were, and continue to be, extraordinary acts of kindness, caring and courage carried out by a variety of individuals and groups — most of whom will never be recognised, or even known.
In the face of such a large-scale disaster, people are responding to the pain and loss of others with empathy, caring and community, wanting to help and support those who are directly impacted and relieve their pain and suffering.
As we look at the destruction, loss and challenging road to recovery ahead, the kindness shown by so many can be an encouraging and motivating symbol of all that is good about humanity, and what we can do to care for and help others in the midst of a tragedy — and hopefully beyond.
The Salvation Army, along with other agencies, continues to provide immediate, ongoing emergency support, as well as long-term support for people affected by the fires.
General manager of The Salvation Army Strategic and Disaster Management, Topher Holland, said recovery support was well underway in some areas, while in other places assessment is still being undertaken on the needs of the communities and how best The Salvation Army can partner with them to stand alongside people affected.
“We will be there for the long haul,” Topher said. “The Salvation Army has an existing presence in most of these areas, and it’s a privilege for us to work with the community and the government in looking at the recovery needs of these communities.”
Debbie Bartlett, from the Upper Blue Mountains Salvos, said she had come alongside many people who had been affected by the loss of a home or other damage to their property.
“A lot of people don’t want to take assistance but I’ve said, ‘Look, when a disaster happens in Australia, Australians want to give and want to help ... think of it as a mate helping a mate; you just don’t know them personally.’”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also recently announced an additional $40 million in emergency relief funding for communities directly impacted by fire, which will be administered by The Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul Society.
A joint media release from the offices of the Prime Minister and Minister for Families and Social Services has announced that:
“For communities directly affected by fire, emergency relief funding will be increased by $40 million. These extra funds can be used for food vouchers or used to pay for a broad range of basics including utility bills, clothing and petrol.
“The funding will be primarily administered by The Salvation Army Property Trust and the St Vincent de Paul Society who collectively provide services across all affected areas and who will be working with locally-based organisations to ensure access for communities in need.”
An additional $10 million will be allocated to financial counselling. “Ten million dollars for expanded financial counselling is a good outcome and will help the long-term recovery of people who are impacted by the fires,” said Neil Venables, The Salvation Army’s Secretary for Communications.
More than $40 million has been raised in the months since The Salvation Army launched its National Disaster Appeal on 9 November, and in excess of $5 million in relief and support aid has been delivered to affected communities across Australia so far.
“We are so grateful to our partners and donors for their generosity and we will allocate funds carefully to ensure the best outcomes,” said Robert Donaldson, leader of the Salvation Army in Australia.
The Salvos’ Community Engagement and Emergency Services teams are now working with federal, state and local partners in disaster response and recovery plans to map out the steps ahead.
“With our experience in previous disasters, we anticipate a three- to four-year recovery process,” said Neil. “We are here for the long term and it is our commitment to journey with people throughout Australia towards the recovery road ahead.”