Christmas will be a testing time for people on the land working through drought, but St Vincent de Paul Society’s efforts continue to allow people to keep their dignity.
That’s according to central council president Paul Burton, who said the society had distributed $342,000 worth of help in his area since August.
“A lot of people out there really can’t afford to have a Christmas this year,” Mr Burton said.
“What we’re finding is, on the farm, a lot of people are putting every possible resource into keeping their animals alive and the maintenance of their farms.”
According to the latest official figures, Vinnies had received 132 calls from people in his patch of 92,000 square kilometres.
Mr Burton said it was “a massive area … about as big as Portugal” – taking in the Tamworth, Gunnedah, Inverell, Glen Innes, Wee Waa, Tenterfield, Collarenebri areas and more.
The society was able to help in 101 cases, and individual volunteers had spent up to 28 hours a week to do so.
They’d distributed $21,000 in vouchers to help with phone and power bills.
The other $321,000 had been used to directly pay people’s bills, such as fuel, medical, dental, vet, rates, water and mechanic bills.
The applicant sends their bills to a volunteer drought relief co-ordinator, who forwards them to the society’s accountant, who pays them on the person’s behalf.
Freeing up money
One volunteer, who asked not to be named, said it was done this way to maintain people’s dignity.
“I paid a power bill this morning, and the woman cried and said, ‘Now I can buy my children Christmas presents’,” she said.
“What we’re trying to do – rather than give them something – is actually free their own money so they’ve got the dignity to go and buy it.”
She said there was also a “domino effect”.
NSW is 100% in drought. Many farming families have had to leave their homes and try to make ends meet in town. With bills and mortgages still incoming, these families are in desperate need of assistance. To support these farmers, go to https://t.co/dRGVh01hPs#nswdrought— Vinnies (@VinniesNSW) August 12, 2018
“We’re paying some of their bills, so we keep the local businesses in business and we keep their staff in a job.”
Mr Burton said: “The whole drought relief is being administered through the existing structure” – which meant no wages were coming out of donated funds.
The volunteer said the people she spoke with – usually over the phone in the evenings, so it’s as convenient and private as possible – were “very proud people”.
“You just hear ... ‘I’ve never had to ask for help, I’ve never had to beg’.
“And I just say to them: ‘I don’t hear anybody begging around here. It’s not a charity dollar, it’s donated funds: If you don’t survive, we can’t afford to eat meat.’”