The St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn has been supported local residents in the year since a bushfire spread over 1,250 hectares to devastate the coastal town of Tathra.

Vinnies quickly raised over $160,000 to support members of the local community. Over the past year this money has enabled Vinnies to directly support those affected by the fire by providing furniture and bedding, but also assistance with power bills and food.

While insurance has covered a lot of expenses for people, many are still out of pocket - needing to rebuild, pay rent, and buy new goods.

In addition to furniture, homewares and financial assistance, Vinnies volunteer members provided Christmas hampers to 56 families.

“We wanted to make Christmas a bit lighter, a bit happier,” said Danni, President of St Vincent de Paul Society in Bega.

“It was overwhelming the amount of stuff that came,” said Anthony Dack, a resident affected by the fire.

“We were fed very well, and were given some clothes - we only had what we were wearing. There was lots of assistance, including psychological assistance.

“Vinnies had boxes of cookware they distributed to residents who lost their homes,” said Mr Dack.

“Danni (from Vinnies) has been fabulous - thoughtful, caring and pre-emptive. Like putting Christmas hampers together. It is difficult at times when you go to pull things out, and they’re not there anymore. So getting some lovely Christmas decorations made a real difference,” said Ms Jani Klotz, a resident of Tathra whose house was destroyed.

“The support at the time was brilliant, outstanding,” said Terry Dixon, who stayed with his house to fight the fire and, with a neighbour, saved a number of houses in the street.

It’s been a year since the fire, but it’s not over yet. Only 3 of the 67 people who lost their houses have moved back in.

It takes time to remove asbestos, plan and re-build a home. In the meantime, people affected are still staying with friends or in rental accommodation.

“Our situation is going to go for another 12-24 months, and it’s going to be emotionally and financially challenging. It’s only now that we’re starting to get our feet back on the ground that we can look around and see what we might need,” said Ms Klotz.

The St Vincent de Paul Society members and volunteers in Bega will continue working with the Tathra Recovery Centre.

“We will keep the funds from the Tathra Bushfire Appeal available for 2-3 years to help people as they move back into their houses and realise what they still need,” said Danni.

And sometimes what they need from Vinnies is someone to talk to.

As one resident said, “It helps me cope to talk about it.’

29 March 2019