Benalla goes above and beyond for victims of bushfires

By Simon Ruppert

The kindness of the Benalla community has been laid bare in recent weeks with all corners of the district doing anything it can to support those affected by recent bushfires.

With one of the earliest and most ferocious starts to a fire season on record, communities across Australia have been destroyed by fire and families around the country have waved goodbye to a CFA or RFS volunteer, who they fear may not return.

With communities across north-east Victoria heavily reliant on unpaid volunteers to protect homes, businesses, wildlife and people, there is an added level of goodwill required to support them, as well as the communities, which are literally in the line of fire.

Fill an esky to support fire affected communities

Both these requirements have seen Benalla, a community lucky to not have been directly affected by fires so far this year, do everything and anything it can to help.

"With love from Benalla"

From sausage sizzles, to local cafe's donating $1 per coffee, to companies lending trucks and community volunteers setting up fundraisers, donations and in-kind support, Benalla can be proud at how the community has come together to do what it can.

One of the biggest drivers of this goodwill has been Benalla's Bec Ross who came up with an idea to deliver some supplies to affected areas - and ended up seeing convoys of trucks delivering far more than she ever envisioned.

“I saw a post on Facebook from a friend of mine up in Lavington who was having a few beers one night with friends and decided to look into how they could help people affected by the recent bushfires,” Ms Ross said.

Reached the destination: The team prepare to unload

“One of them was a guy called Nick who owns Plummer's Freight up in Albury, and between them they decided to put a call out on Facebook for donations specifically for the Lavington RFS, which they could arrange to be put on a truck and sent up.

“So I thought I could put it to Benalla that I could take a load up, which I did.”

Ms Ross filled the back of her ute with relative ease and subsequently had the idea of looking at how she could arrange for more to be sent, which is when she was put in contact with Emma Cavalot from Midland Freight.

“They jumped at the chance to get involved,” Ms Ross said.

“They agreed to be a drop-off point for anyone wanting to donate and then they arranged for a truck to take everything up.

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“With their help we got 32 pallet loads ready to send. That is when Kellie and Mick Boland from Bolands Transport got involved.

“They arranged for their son Anthony to drive a semi-trailer over to Gippsland. Some went down to the Traralgon area, too.

“We also had Benalla Signs and Designs make a fantastic banner, which read ‘With love from Benalla’ that went on one of the trucks.

“So the idea snowballed quickly and we were amazed with how helpful the whole community was in making sure these trucks were full.”

Ms Ross was not only concentrating on Benalla and also helped arrange donation drop-off points in Euroa and Wangaratta.

Loading up ready to set off

She said she planned to continue with the collection of goods to assist bushfire affected areas and the CFA and RFS crews helping to protect them.

“We are waiting on a list of what is needed,” Ms Ross said.

“And we are all making the most of having a brief breather before getting back into it.”

As you might have seen on the news, many CFA and RFA districts have requested that people stop sending goods.

The main reason for this is that the time it takes to sort and distribute goods is simply not available with the amount of work involved in tackling the fires themselves and the associated evacuations.

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This is why the group of volunteers are waiting to receive a specific list of what is needed before asking people to continue donating.

“For example some are now saying there is not a huge need for things like toiletries anymore, but there is a big requirement for things to help people rebuild,” Ms Ross said.

“Everyone is asking if we will continue to do our bit, and the answer to that is yes, absolutely.

“But we are having a small break and some family time and when we get that list we can start up again.”

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