Cash best balm for fire victims

ROSEMARY Bolger says: The bushfires that have ravaged parts of the state prompted a surge of generosity and community spirit that made us proud to be Tasmanian.

Facebook sites set up in the wake of the devastating fires were immediately flooded with offers and an army of people lined up to sort and distribute the goods.

People just started turning up at refuge centres to drop off everything from clothes and food to sports equipment and colouring books for kids. Victims said they were moved to tears more than once by the kindness shown to them by these strangers.

But at times people's desire to give overwhelmed those thrust into a co- ordination role who were frantically trying to connect the loads of goods coming in to whoever needed it as quickly as possible.

However well intentioned the donations, not all of it was high on the priority list or appropriate. Donated furniture presented more problems than it solved, while a book on sustainable home design was weeded out by an eagle-eyed volunteer.

On the weekend, Sorell Mayor Kerry Vincent called for a halt to donations.

"We've had maybe 50 or 60 people who required clothes. We have probably got enough clothes for five to 10 thousand people," Cr Vincent said.

At Nubeena, they actually started sending things back.

He advised people to drop stuff off to St Vincent de Paul or the Salvation Army - charities experienced in sorting and distributing second-hand goods. Better yet, rather than simply donating your second-hand items, why not band together with a few others, hold a garage sale and donate the funds to the Tasmanian Bushfire Appeal.

At the end of the day, support services and authorities agree money is the most useful thing you can give.

Much has been learnt from Victoria's experience of recovering from Black Saturday in 2009. One of the things support services noted was that for people who have lost everything, being given a couple of hundred bucks to go and buy themselves some new clothes gave them a boost that pulling on a pair of second-hand donated jeans didn't.

This makes sense, especially to those of us with overflowing wardrobes. Retail therapy at its best.

And don't panic. The garage sale doesn't have to be this weekend. While there was an initial rush to meet the needs of those stranded or cut off from supplies, the response has shifted gears from crisis to recovery mode.

While the rest of us will move on relatively soon as bushfire-related coverage slips off the front page, the victims will continue to need psychological and financial support for months, if not years.

Emotions aside, those left homeless by the fires face a difficult choice and if they do return to the same site, a painful wait to rebuild. Two years after the Victorian bushfires, less than half the homes destroyed had been rebuilt.

Donations and pledges to the official appeal total more than $3million. In Victoria, a similar appeal helped pay for ongoing individual counselling sessions, clean-up and community- strengthening programs.

Yesterday details of a committee that will decide how to spend the appeal funds was announced. Led by Patricia Leary, the group also includes representatives from the Bushfire Recovery Taskforce, Red Cross and the affected local government areas.

They are well placed to maximise every cent in the fund. In their hands, any cash raised from that garage sale will go a long way.


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