After a natural disaster, there’s an immediate need – for beds, water, animal food, human food, toilet paper, clothes, medications and comfort.
The fires that burned in our region around New Year were no different and, thankfully, donations came pouring in from all over the country and the world to help people whose lives had been interrupted.
Monetary donations keep indefinitely but things need to be stored and directed to those who need them when they are needed. It’s no small task and often falls on understaffed local councils.
“I saw trucks full of donated goods being turned away and politicians telling people to stop donating,” says South Coast Donations Logistics Team founder Matthew Hatcher, who lives in Tomakin. “I just kicked into gear. I thought, ‘Someone needs that stuff, we’ve got to find a way to store it’.”
Hatcher mobilised around 50 of his friends and family to start addressing the problem of getting donations to people who need them right away and organised donated warehouse space locally and in Sydney to store the food, toys, bedding and water that flowed in.
After meeting urgent needs, the aim of the logistics team is to get people back to normalcy as fast as possible.
“Soon after the fires, we did things like drive bottled water out to a cancer patient in Dalmeny at 11 pm. No government agency is going to do that,” Hatcher says. “Now we’re doing things like replacing a surfboard that a kid got for Christmas which burnt in the fires, or making sure families have a generator so the kids can have a hot shower before starting school.”Growing up in the United States in Mobile, Alabama, Hatcher says natural disasters were a part of life as hurricanes impacted his hometown almost yearly, but he’d never done any large scale emergency response work until now.
He does, however, have experience managing in the hospitality industry and has his own small business, Guerrilla Roasters.
What he saw immediately after the fires was more like he’d witnessed in Zimbabwe in 2002 than he’d expect in Australia in 2020.
“I saw traumatised people overwhelmed by paperwork and the gaps that aid organisations couldn’t fill.
“We wanted it to be simple, so if you contact us with a need, all we need is your name. It’s not only for people who have lost their home – it’s for all the people who have lost two weeks of income because they had to evacuate. For some of us, just not having to buy groceries for a few weeks is enough support to get back on track.”
Hatcher still sees need in his community despite time passing since the fires swept through.
The immediate needs have evolved to include building materials and tools, and he estimates there are hundreds still in need in the Eurobodalla.
“Many people are still in survival mode. We talked to a family the other day who had lost three houses between them and are all living together in the half a house that didn’t totally burn down. We’re getting them a caravan. We constantly hear stories like that.”
Helping animals has been a focus of the team and they have a partnership with RSPCA.
“We can fill that immediate need before the paperwork goes through and a government organisation can step in,” Hatcher explains. “We had a farmer with 60 head of Wagyu cattle that he was planning on shooting because he didn’t have feed for them today. We fed them and three days later he accessed aid to feed them.”
The simple form on the team’s website asks for your name and requests.
“If someone asked for toothpaste, pasta and water, that’s what they got, neatly packaged,” Hatcher says.
Being independent volunteers is the reason they have been able to achieve so much.
“We don’t clock on and off. We don’t get restricted by red tape and we don’t have forms to fill in. We’re just a group of big-hearted people who want to help our community – not next Thursday but now, when it’s most needed.”
South Coast Donations Logistic Team sees recovery as a long road and currently has a two-year plan to continue helping the Bega Valley and Eurobodalla communities.
To register a need or volunteer, get in touch with South Coast Donations Logistics Team.