Volunteering to serve others changed Elaine's life.
When our Salvo officer (minister) asked for volunteers from the region to go to Glen Innes for a couple of days to join The Salvation Army Emergency Services (SAES) to support the firies and other emergency workers during the recent bushfires, it was really clear to me that I should go. It just hit me very strongly.
I first went for four days but ended up staying and working 13 in a row. This was my first time volunteering with the SAES.
The first week I spent serving in the mess tent. There were often more than 200 emergency workers for each meal and also packs for them to take away. It was very intense and extremely tiring.
After four days, and due to go home, I thought about the next SAES group coming in, and thought maybe I could stay and give them an extra pair of hands. And I really believe God gave me, and all of us, extra strength.
After the first rotation, I worked with the chef from Salvos Coffs Harbour — a wonderful man. He taught me a lot. I was enjoying the cooking. For breakfast one morning we were expecting 310 firies, plus others.
They were hungry. They’d been out all night. They were exhausted. In our hearts we weren’t just feeding them, but hoped we were nurturing them in some way too.
I ended up being deployed for a full month, as well as being ‘on standby’ many times. We had a police escort in and out of Old Bar, I went to the Martins Creek firegrounds, served the Rural Fire Service (RFS) at Wollombi and Pokolbin, and went to the Hunter Fire Control at Bulga and Batemans Bay Evacuation Centre.
At one stage, an SES (State Emergency Services) leader and I were getting ice from the ice machine and I said to him, “You are heroes; our hearts are with you.” He gave me a hug and had tears in his eyes. He said, “We couldn’t do it without all of you!”
Working with other Salvos was wonderful. They rolled up their sleeves and they were into it. They did whatever they could for anyone, at any time, and I was really proud to wear the SAES uniform. They were long days with little sleep, but we were needed, and appreciated.
At the firefront there were so many emergency teams and other organisations giving everything they had — RFS, Hazmat (Hazardous Materials), SES, St John Ambulance and National Parks and Wildlife and more. Most were volunteers, from all over Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada.
It absolutely gave me a whole new appreciation of the emergency services. I’m in awe of them all. They were risking their lives to save people, homes and towns. It was beautiful to help serve them and others.
I have a Christian faith and come from a strong Christian family. My beautiful mum and grandparents had real faith. We have all seen many miraculous answers to prayer in our lives and over generations.
When I began to attending the Salvos, they became like family to me, wherever I moved.
I’m so grateful and honoured to be able to help in some way with the SAES. I think the biggest thing about helping others is you forget about yourself and your problems. When you go out and give financially — or with time and effort — the rewards and satisfaction you get are greater than anything you give.
The experience has had a huge impact on my life and changed me forever.