Novocastrians heard the call for help after devastating bushfires forced the evacuation of homes, destroyed millions of hectares of land, and led to the loss of lives.
Hundreds of residents flocked to Gibbs Oval in Merewether on Sunday to hand over donations and gather vital supplies for the firefighters battling blazes in southern NSW.
Three locals – Janette Chapman, Gillian Summers and Sam Worth – put a call out on social media, which received an overwhelming response. The donations collected were enough to fill five seven tonne trucks and a one tonne ute.
“The Novocastrians were amazing – we expected to take two cars of donations to Sydney,” Ms Chapman said.
She added that the donation drive started “as a couple of friends wanting to help”.
“It was very difficult to sit there and not do anything,” she said.
“I am so grateful for the people’s generosity.”
Two trucks were driven to Shoalhaven, one truck was sent to East Maitland, and the remaining donations were delivered to Bulga.
Co-organiser Mrs Summers and her husband distributed some of the donations to Bulga. She said the response they received from the firefighters was heart-warming.
“Before we left, we were ringing around to see where they were most needed,” she said.
“They were so overwhelmed, and they said they’d almost run out [of supplies].”
“I just can’t begin to imagine the emotions.” Ms Chapman and Mrs Summers praised the generous Newcastle community.
“I was just blown away by Newy,” Mrs Summers said.
“The incredible heartfelt response – I want to say a huge thank you to the volunteers, particularly those who drove the trucks.”
The ongoing bushfires have caused widespread devastation. At the time of writing, more than 1,500 homes have been destroyed, at least 23 people have lost their lives, and it is estimated that half a billion animals have been killed.
These numbers are expected to rise as experts count the cost of the Volunteer donation drivers and firefighters in Bulga. fires that burnt through more than six million hectares of land across the country.
A staggering amount of money has already been raised from people all over the world.
Australian comedian Celeste Barber opened a fundraising campaign on Facebook last Friday and, since then, she has raised more than $40 million, with other celebrities including Pink, Nicole Kidman, Ellen DeGeneres and Keith Urban also chipping in.
Organisations across the country, including the Red Cross, NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) and St Vincent de Paul Society, have launched appeals to collect monetary donations.
Locally, Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison has opened her office for drop-offs. “Our Rural Fire Brigades are so busy keeping us and our properties safe that they simply cannot spare people to collect much-needed donations,” Ms Aitchison said.
Located at 2/12 Elgin Street, Maitland, Ms Aitchison and her team are collecting items for the nearby fire brigades to replenish their supplies.
“My office will serve as a collection point and I will deliver the donations to brigades in our community,” she said.
Bottles of water, electrolyte drinks and non-perishable foods are among the suggested donations.
Go to rfs.nsw.gov.au/volunteer/support-your-local-brigade to donate. Visit rfs.nsw.gov.au or download the Fires Near Me app to stay up to date with the bushfire situation.