Responding as One Society

6 April 2022

Gail Gaudron, St Vincent de Paul Society Lismore Central Council President, reflects on the response taken by the Society one month on from the floods that devastated the Northern Rivers.

In the face of so much heartache to befall the Northern Rivers in recent times, the response of our members, volunteers and staff to assist wherever possible has been a source of immense pride.

From the final days of February through to now, our people have worked tirelessly to be there for people in their time of need with financial aid made possible through the Vinnies NSW Flood Appeal, food, water, clothing, emotional support and much more.

To date, the Society has been able to distribute $3.2 million in cash grants to 2,154 approved applicants, providing each recipient with approximately $1,500 on average in immediate financial relief.

So many people have played a part during this time, however, I would like to pay particular mention to Clare Van Doorn, who has overseen our response to the floods with distinction.

Clare was one of the first staff to arrive in the region and leapt immediately into work by liaising with the local council and Resilience NSW to oversee the Society’s presence at recovery centres.

Drawing on the lessons learnt during the bushfires, where we waited for people to come to us, our members, using their local knowledge, made the decision to go directly to people in affected communities, to ensure that immediate financial aid was offered and connections established for longer-term support.

At recovery centres in Lismore, Ballina, Casino, Murwillumbah, Evans Head, Maclean, Mullumbimby, Grafton and many others, our members listened with compassion and care to stories of people left with little more than the clothes on their back. Such stories included those of people who lived through floods previously and those determined to rebuild in communities they have always called home.

Beyond the efforts of our members based on the ground in the state’s north-east, the arrival of the Liverpool Night Patrol Van was a welcome presence. In addition to offering a meal and a chance for locals to connect with the Society, the van enabled our people to deliver tents, swags, stove tops, clothing, water and much more to affected communities.

Sadly, our shops and Conference spaces in Mullumbimby and Lismore were not spared from the flood waters. In a sign of how forceful these floods were in comparison to those five years earlier, the Society’s Lismore office, located above the adjoining Vinnies Shop, was impacted with waters rising through the first-floor carpet.

Operations have since shifted to our distribution centre in Goonellabah where our people work to continue meeting the needs of the people we assist.

As we move towards the next phase of planning to help communities recover and rebuild, the need for housing is shaping up as a primary concern. Long before these most recent floods, housing affordability and availability were constant causes of concern in the Northern Rivers. In the wake of the floods, the situation has worsened considerably with thousands of residents unsure where they will stay tomorrow, let alone in the months and years to come.

Most recently, we have formed a partnership with GIVIT, whereby our Conference are able to advocate on behalf of the people we assist to apply for big ticket items, such as fridges and washing machines, in an effort to restore a sense of normality for people who have lost so much.

It is through these acts of collaboration that the Society is able to continue making a difference beyond the financial grants that have already been distributed.

To everyone who has contributed during this challenging time, whether it be through donations, travelling up to lend a hand, prayers or support in spreading the word of our good works, I offer my sincerest thanks.

The Society has so far assisted 6,422 people during the initial response and will continue to offer a hand up during the months of recovery to come.

By working as one united Society of members, volunteers, staff and supporters, we have been able to make a difference to the lives of thousands of people in their time of need.

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You can help communities recover and rebuild with a donation to the Vinnies NSW Flood Appeal by visiting www.vinnies.org.au/nswfloodappeal or calling 13 18 12 today.