• A CFA firefighter tackles spot fires in Victoria. (Getty Images)
Humans and animals need help now and in the weeks and months to come. Here’s how you can lend a hand.
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5 Jan 2020 - 5:10 PM  UPDATED 8 Jan 2020 - 2:02 PM

Want to help the people, animals and communities devasted by the bushfires that have been raging across NSW, Victoria, SA and other parts of Australia? There are many great initiatives that have been helping and will continue to do so.

Here, we look at some ways you can help on the food front.  

Support the chefs, cooks and businesses helping those in need

Across the country, cooks and chefs and eateries big and small are trying to help people affected by fire. Among them, one of SBS Food’s favourites, former River Cottage Australia host Paul West, who posted a passionate plea on his Instagram page on Friday calling for, and offering to be part of, a co-ordinated public response to help communities with supplies and emotional support. That post was made from the side of a road as West and many others evacuated the small community of Bermagui. Today West posted an update. “I have received incredible advice from experts in the field and have the following suggestions for everyone out there that wants to help immediately. Donate money to frontline charities and your state’s rural fire service.” Familiarise yourself [with the tools for] mental health care post disaster,” he wrote. Longer-term, he hopes to be able to help communities recover – follow him on Instagram to find out more as these plans unfold.

Other chefs and caring cooks are doing their bit too – from this SA4SA fundraising dinner planned for later this month, to support those affected by fires in SA, including those at Cudlee Creek and Kangaroo Island, to this team of Sikh volunteers who have been serving food to bushfire communities in Victoria. In Sydney, more than 35 of the city's leading chefs, cooks and venues have come together to organise several #cookforthebush fundraisers on Sunday January 12 - a brunch to be held at NOMAD on Sunday sold out within hours, but locals can still support a bake sale being held the same day at Chin Chin, a rooftop lunch at Paramount Recreation Club and a silent auction of vouchers and experiences (find out more about the lunch and auction at nomadwine.com.au). 

National food relief organisation Foodbank is working to get food and drink supplies to affected areas, both to support first responders such as firefighters and affected communities (follow Foodbank's Facebook page for updates on where bushfire aid is going, and to see any callouts for specific donations or volunteer help). 

Spend money in the bush

Help rural communities to deal with disaster and get back on their feet by spending some money in bushfire-affected areas. @spendwiththem is a new Instagram account launched by Turia Pitt and Grace McBride to feature business in fire-affected areas. 

"Fires have ravaged towns and devastated communities across Australia. It’s been going on for months. And once they’re finally over, it won’t be over for many of the local businesses in the towns you’re seeing on the TV and hearing about on the radio. A lot of these places (like my home in Mollymook and Mallacoota, Kangaroo Island, Eden etc) rely on the tourist dollar for their very survival. I’ve been motivated by Tegan Weber’s #GoWithEmptyEskys campaign and by the legends at @buyfromthebush," writes Pitt in a post about the idea. "And so this is what I’m doing. I’ve created this account (@spendwiththem), a place to feature businesses in fire-affected towns. So, if you want to buy something (now, or in the future), check out the stuff we feature here on this page and buy something from one of these businesses. Spend your money with the people and the communities who really, truly need it. They need you. We need you.

"This is a way to put money directly in the pockets of the people and communities who need it the most, and need it NOW. Long after the threat is over and the choppers stop flying overhead. Long after summer ends and the wail of sirens ceases in the streets. Help them rebuild. Make them feel heard. Spend with them."

So far, the account has featured businesses selling everything from clothing to wine and coffee.

Another two great initiatives showcasing rural businesses, including many that you can buy from online, are Buy From The Bush (featuring rural businesses) and One Day Closer to Rain Rural Cottage Crafts (a Facebook group that showcases people in the bush and regional areas who are selling their crafty creations, including colourful child and adult kitchen aprons, homemade preserves, cakes, confectionery and more). You could buy anything from a jar of jam  to an artisan-made dining table or a set of beeswax wraps. 

Buy From the Bush was initially set up to help people struggling with the effects of drought, but founder Grace Brennan told SBS it was also helping those hit by fire, not only some directly affected but also businesses struggling in areas where people can no longer spend money the way they normally would. 

"Like drought-affected communities, bushfire communities will be reeling for some time to come. While many families focus their energy on repairing homes and lives after the fires, they will not necessarily be able to sustain local retailers and service providers. Support and patronage coming in from other geographic areas take the pressure off these rural businesses.

"A few of the business [previously showcased on Buy From the Bush] have been affected by recent bush fires. One, in particular, told SBS she was selling her wares to pay for fencing supplies to repair the damage done by a recent fire."

There are many food product makers, as well as rural shops selling kitchenware and more; the best way to see everything on offer ( there's an amazing array of non-food items too - everything from the most awesome rustic portable toilet and shower blocks to Indigenous artwork) is to scroll through the Buy From the Bush Facebook page or Instagram page, or One Day's Facebook page.  

Help put food on the table

There are many organisations, small and large, that have been helping to feed evacuees and firefighters. With the threat of more fires over to come over summer, many of them will need more donations or volunteer help.

One very new enterprise making a difference is Farmer Joe's Pantry, which opened late last year at Wauchope in the Hastings region, near Port Macquarie. It's an initiative of the Port Macquarie Sunrise Rotary Club.

"We started the pantry to assist farmers suffering from the drought but now have extended to helping victims from our recent horrific fires," says project co-ordinator Pam Foye. "We have heaps of non-perishable foods, toiletries, water, pet food, doonas, sheets, towels, clothing, shoes, crockery and so much more. Members of the community can come in and restock their pantry all for free.

"We are open every Wednesday and Friday, although I will always try to pop out to Wauchope if someone needs help and can’t make it in these times. For instance, we filled up a lady’s campervan with food, toiletries and water. She took it all up to Macksville where Blaze Aid was set up to help that local community."  (Read more about Blaze Aid below)

Australia’s major charities help in many ways when disaster strikes, and one of them is to put food on the table for people who have lost their homes or been evacuated. Donations to the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal, run by St Vincent de Paul Society, for example, help the organisation provide grocery vouchers and food, along with other assistance.    

'Vinnies' says financial donations, rather than actual food items, are the most effective way to help. Vinnies social support services, which operate year-round, provide vouchers or small emergency food packs to people in need, although those packs are purchased from local stores, rather than via food donations, as this helps support local businesses. 

For the bushfires, says Vinnies NSW CEO Jack de Groot, “While we are thankful for donations of quality clothing and items, the best way to make an immediate impact is to give money. This enables us to direct your donation right away to those who need it.”

Donations can also help the many volunteers who fight bush fires: Salvation Army Emergency Services teams have been helping by providing meals to evacuees and those fighting fires.

Animals need food too

It’s hard to hold back the tears when realising how the bushfires have devastated Australia’s wild animals.

Numerous organisations, including NSW wildlife rescue organisation WIRES; The Rescue Collective and the related Animal Rescue Craft Guild group of sewers and knitters making joey puches, bird nests and more; and The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital have been working to help injured animals, and will be providing help for weeks and months to come. Along with medical supplies, they need money to supply food for the animals they are caring for. 

This article from our colleagues at SBS News has tips on how to help koalas and other wildlife:

Here's how you can help the koalas hit by the recent horror bushfires
One of Australia's national icons has been hard-hit by the bushfires in NSW and Queensland.

WIRES has also put together a factsheet for anyone in or near areas impacted by fires, with general advice for helping wildlife during bushfires, including leaving bowls of water out for animals escaping fires, and what to do if you need to rescue an injured animal. 

Lend a hand

The farmers who put food on our tables can lose crops, animals, buildings and machinery in bushfires.

If you’ve got time to spare, check out the wonderful work of Blaze Aid. Set up in 2009 in the wake of the Black Saturday fires, this volunteer-based charity helps people in rural areas after natural disasters such as fires and floods. Volunteers work alongside the locals to help rebuild fences and other structures that have been destroyed - and help in other ways too. As Blaze Aid explains, "Equally important, volunteers also help to lift the spirits of people who are often facing their second or third flood event after years of drought, or devastating losses through bushfires. BlazeAid volunteers work in a disaster-affected area for many months, not only helping individuals and families but also helping rebuild the local communities." Their website explains how to give or get help. 

The Organic & Regenerative Investment Co-operative (ORICoop) is another group looking for volunteers to help farmers and producers in the wake of the recent fires. 

Small efforts add up to a big difference

Even the simple act of buying a sanga can help. Across Australia, there are thousands of small fundraising events being organised, from sausage sizzles to cake stalls, and businesses donating part of their profits from a day or a particular product. Find out what’s happening near you by searching social media for #bushfireappeal or #bushfirefundraiser, or check your local council’s website and social media channels.

Find more information on how to people in fire-affected areas in this article by the NSW Rural Fire Service, and this article from SBS News:

Here's what you can do to help those on the frontlines of the devastating bushfires
Australia is currently in the midst of one of the worst bushfire seasons in its history, with more than five million hectares across the country already burnt and more than a thousand homes destroyed. Here's how you can help those affected.
 

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