29 September 2023

Michelago store shows it has the right recipe when it comes to community spirit

| Sally Hopman
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Woman in front of helicopter

New owner of the Michelago store Belinda Hayes after helping to load up one of the RFS choppers with lunch for the firefighters battling the Anembo fire last week. Photo: Supplied.

The call came through to the Michelago General Store and Cafe last Thursday morning.

Food. We need food, new owner Belinda Hayes was told, by the Rural Fire Service (RFS) person on the other end of the phone.

“We urgently need lunch to feed the RFS crew on the ground,” they said.

The RFS crews were battling a bushfire in Foggy Forest, Anembo, about 15 km south of Captains Flat. It started as a grass fire last Tuesday before rising to a watch-and-act level as it burnt near Jerangle Road. It remained out of control until late in the day, with more than 112 hectares burnt out.

READ ALSO New custodians of historic general store welcomed with open arms

Although the main danger to nearby residents and property had eased, they were advised to continue to monitor conditions while RFS crews stayed on site.

Ms Hayes, who with her husband Dale and their four children, only took over the business from the long-time local Kenyon family in April, had moved to the village in 2021.

“On that first day when the call came in, there was initially some panic,” Ms Hayes recalled. “But I knew with the team we had, we’d manage it.

“Then they started calling us every day after that, saying they needed lunch and dinner. The first day they wanted food for 30 for lunch and 53 for dinner, the next day was 40 for lunch … but after a while the numbers started going down.”

With the first request for food, just like the bushfire itself, coming out of the blue, Ms Hayes had no time to prepare and get extra supplies in, so the first lunch was ham and cheese sandwiches, a muesli bar, fruit, lollipop and a drink. But by the end of the week, the Michelago store was churning out top treats for the firies, from chicken pesto to pasta salads, vegetable frittata, quiche lorraine and fresh muffins daily.

Woman with boxes of food

Belinda Hayes with some of the food she and her team from the Michelago General Store and Cafe prepared for the RFS crews. Photo: Supplied.

The food was also provided at mates’ rates, Ms Hayes, who previously worked in the project management field, said.

“Of course, that weekend was one of the busiest we’d ever had in the cafe,” Ms Hayes said, adding that her team of eight were flat chat with preparing the RFS food as well as regular customers. “And our main cook was off then so I had to wear a few different hats.

“But it was so well worth it,” she said. “That’s why we wanted to move here. Sure, we were flat-out, but that’s what living in a community like this is all about. Helping out, helping each other.

“Quitting my job to do this was a big risk, but I just wanted to be part of a community – and that’s what’s happened.

“It’s been a fun journey so far, I’ve loved every minute of it.

“At first, when we started making all the food for them, I was worried that maybe they wouldn’t like it. I said something to one of the RFS people and they said, ‘no news was good news’ and that ‘you’d know if they didn’t like it’,” she laughed.

Michelago store

Olivia Hayes, whose family has just taken over the Michelago store and cafe, takes a box of food for firefighters out to the RFS helicopter on the Michelago Oval. Photo: Supplied.

The food delivery soon became a quick, efficient operation. When the RFS helicopter landed on the Michelago Oval to refuel, Ms Hayes or her daughter Olivia would race out there with the food packed in boxes to be loaded onto the chopper.

Ms Hayes said providing the food for the firefighters would not have been possible without “my amazing team, particularly Deb, Lisa, Jess, Bailey and Luci who had to do a run into Canberra to get more supplies”.

“We had an incredibly busy weekend with the cafe booked out on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and given our location and limited storage space we generally only stock exactly what we need and no more – so we had pretty much run out of everything.

“But we made it work.”

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