Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mt little absence

I've neglected the blog lately but with good cause. On Sunday January 12th a devastating bushfire tore through my home town. Although I don't live there anymore a lot of people I know still do. My whole family was very connected to that community through decades of volunteering and involvement. 

When I realised there was no one group to collect all the offers coming through on Facebook I created a group myself and then stayed up until about 2am directing donations (of goods) and keeping in contact with the nearest evacuation point as well as doing some research on related organisations. 

The next morning I got the trucks off, the girls dressed, bundled up all of my stuff and headed down to the evacuation centre. I'll be honest, I really wasn't sure what pics to include here. It's a bit of an odd situation. On one hand, I don't want to seem like I'm encouraging voyeurism but on the other hand, these pics make my heart swell with love for the generous and compassionate people of Perth. In the end I have chosen a few pics (not that I took that many anyway) to show what the evacuation centre is like and have made sure the only people in the pics are volunteers not evacuees and they are back-of-head shots or blurry- not clearly identifiable.  It's also a long post so I'm going to put in one of those "read more" cuts....

At one end of the hall there was a giant black pinboard set up which contained useful and constantly-updated information alongside a big projections screen and some AV equipment. There were meetings twice a day for the first few days and most of the hall was filled with chairs for those meetings (sleeping happened in a smaller carpeted room off the foyer).

We did a lot of useful things. There was a lady whose phone battery was almost empty and we got her a charger (this was a pic I put on the group FB page with the callout). A lady needed a portacot- we found one. Someone needed towels to shower at the evacuation centre, we got some lots. An elderly man went to stay with relatives but needed a shower chair- we got him one. 

When I say "we" I mean the Facebook group but also my good friend Jen who was evacuated herself and who helped me run the group. She has a baby boy and some health issues but she was unstoppable when it came to helping other people. When I was on facebook til 2am answering PMs and posts- she was in the evacuation centre, sorting and folding donations until 2am. Then she was up at the crack of dawn to start again. She is amazing. 

Donations were supposed to go to a few other locations that were specifically handling donations but a lot of people didn't realise and just brought stuff down to the evacuation centre anyway, plus we'd put a call out for specific items like plus size clothes, towels, soap etc. Basically this meant we spent a lot of time sorting, folding and labelling. This is a 'before' (above)

and an 'after' (although there were always new things being brought in and things being taken). 

And then facing the other way (facing the foyer) there is food and toys (far side of the table). Between the two tables is a storage area holding more donated items and things like gazebos and tables donated by Bunnings. On the far right you can see a table set up (and a lady in a red shirt). That was the shire of Mundaring table and all up that wall were other tables for insurance companies and other groups who might be of assistance. 

There was also a Telstra table set up later in the day. They had recharging stations, a landline and internet enabled-laptop so that everyone could stay in touch plus free pre-paid mobile phones. I asked that lady if I could take the picture, she's trying her best to not look awkward yet I unfortunately managed to capture a really awkward pic of her- sorry, lady! 

I was very proud of my girls, they helped as much as they could, dragging bags and boxes, moving piles, rearranging chairs etc and generally amusing themselves. They didn't once complain about anything so it was  mid-afternoon before I realised I hadnt fed them ALL DAY! Luckily the RRT (rapid relief team) were there handing out food and drinks so they had kind of snacked. And not on junk- on gorgeous homemade sandwiches, slices and fruit cups.

It was a really emotional time for me. Although I didn't lose my home nor even my family home, people I knew lost their homes. Homes I spent many hours in. Homes I broke my nose in (okay, that only happened at one home and it was actually in the front yard). Every second face was someone familiar. It made for a very unhappy reunion. But I was also buoyed by being able to help. By seeing peoples spirits lift even just slightly after a shave or a change of clothes. And then sometimes I felt guilty- not only was my home still standing (many kms away), but people were heaping praise on me when I didn't really do anything, I was just the conduit for other peoples' passion and kindness. I felt pride for my daughters. I felt exhausted. I felt nostalgic for the place I grew up. I felt connected to strangers. I felt scared by seeing the people who were the 'grownups' all my life now walking around looking lost and sad. I felt energised by the adrenaline surge. I felt responsible for helping people through this situation even though I was in no way qualified or expected to. I felt frustrated by people who kept picking items up and putting them back for "someone who needs it more" I had to tell these people "these are for YOU. If we need more, there are literally thousands of people waiting to bring more stuff down" because they were in denial and shock and would have left with nothing. I was touched by the businesses who helped out with no expectation of reward- Storage King in Midland donated dozens of bags for people to use to carry all their collected items (clothing, towels, toiletries etc) and also storage units. Cafe2U made coffees for everyone. Boost Juice came down with a giant esky full of drinks for evacuees and volunteers. Coles donated probably 100 green shopper bags. IGA Nollamara sent someone down with a giant sack full of toiletries. And then there were all the regular people who turned up to help, turned up with donations, PMd me non-stop for the last couple of weeks wanting to help, wanting to know where to drop off donations.

The evacuation centre went back to being a rec centre last week. Donations of goods are being handled by VolunteeringWA, CLAN Midland and the Salvation Army and to an extent the Shire of Mundaring. Monetary donations are being handled by the Salvation Army and also the Lord Mayors Distress Relief Fund. But things are still going on behind the scenes with our group too. We have several drop-off/pick-up points around Perth where people can browse for what they need without media attention and an awesome lady sorting all the donations into care packs (ie putting 3x changes of ladies size 10 clothes or 3 changes of boys size 4 clothes or a set of nappies/wipes/bibs/blankies/toys for babies). We have some events for affected people so they can unwind a little. And right now I'm off to drop a carton of stuff of to a lady's house who is making up packs for children. 

So that's where I've been and what I have been doing. (Also I've been working full-time, it's school holidays and my husband hurt his back so he's basically on bedrest when he's not at work). 

Laura xx


Thanks for dropping by. I'd love to hear your thoughts......