i have always believed in helping out where you can, doing what you can in whichever way that shows itself for you.
I have been volunteering in some shape or form for many years but last year my friend Sharon rang and said "our farmers need help and they cant do this alone" so jumping on board with Sharons idea of a Dilly Drought Drive we got to work, doing what what we can.
The last 18 months i have learnt more about charity, fundraising and making a difference than ever before. Our area has been in drought for over 3 years with no positive forecast in the near future. This has lead to many issues - resilience, no money, no food, contracts that need to be met, fines for not meeting contracts, guilt, depression, animals dying, heritage trees dying and much more.
We have fought for our farmers to be recognised as farmers in need, being in a green drought on the fringe of Sydney didnt help. The term green drought is used when the ground is dry but because it is slightly protected by mountains, hills and trees, the ground still has some greenery and appears relatively healthy. I walked onto a green footy field last year and was amazed that up close it wasnt green at all, there was lots of dust between the blades of grass and i honestly have no idea how the players played without inhaling lungs full of dust. Just because something appears so doesnt mean it is. I had a guy from Water NSW show me this most amazing picture of a green field which looked magnificant until he told me it was actually the very bottom of very large dam that had very little water left.
Big Charities like Rural Aid at the time werent helping our farmers and in fact none of the charities seem to know that we had struggling farmers right here in our region. Big stores like Bunnings and Woolworths and TV channels started doing massive fundraisers to help the farmers out west and $100,000's of hard earned local money left our region to help (dont get me wrong, its dry out west too and they need help) with nothing being returned to our locals who where struggling too. Not only did we need to raise awareness in our community we needed to raise awareness with those who could help us. We also organised our own fundraisers.
Our fundraising really started to take off then with cans in all the shops, many schools jumping on board to help us and keeping their hard earned cash local. We had clubs host fundraisers, we had a charitable organisation in Sydney take us under their wing and choose us as their charity. We had a local recycler come on board to help us. Local Councils, Chambers of Commerce, Lions CLubs, CWA, Rotary have donated and helped us where they could.
I learnt what happens when our good deeds are misguided - sending ute loads full of food to farmers out west is an awesome idea for the farmer but detrimental to the community, money still needs to be spent in the community for the community to survive. Many are now doing cards with the money they have raised and the farmers can shop local to them and help keep their communities strong.
We have advocated tirelessly for:
- our region to be recognised as a drought area
- for people to think about where their donated $ goes - is it charitable or treated as income to the recripent?
- for Water NSW/Government/Council to impose water restrictions on the dams that we feed from
- for people to understand where their water and food comes from
- for people to look after local first, if everyone looked after local everyone would be looked after.
I have no idea how many kilometres i raked up in my car delivering donations tins, collecting donation tins, talking at preschools, (and the many volunteers who helped us did the same), i do know i wore out 2 pair of boots and if Sharon hadnt brought me an awesomely warm jacket last winter i would have frozen.
This year we got off to a slow start as i really did need to dedicate some time to my own business which got a little forgotten last year and we needed some time to regroup. This year we are looking at other ways to raise much needed funds. We have raised over $600,000 in cash, plus many food hampers and gift cards thanks to the generosity of our community and beyond. All of this has gone to our farmers in the form of hay relief, and water drops weekly so they can shower, have a cuppa and wash.
Sharon and I just get on doing what we can, when we can however we can and every know and then something stops us in our tracks and reminds us of the enormity of what we have undertaken and achieved. Last year we met the now Governor General of Australia (he was the Governor of NSW last year) and his wife when they visited one of the farms in our program. We have been invited to events at the Sydney Town Hall, the Black Tie and Boots Ball, Fundraisers at Club Menangle. we have been recognised with community awards from the Lions Club, Australia Day Awards from Wollondilly Council, Mention in the Hidden Treasurer honour roll, our farm liason has been runner up in farmer of the year and i think there are some others in there too. Just this week Sharon was nominated for volunteer of the year and won not only adult volunteer but also overall volunteer of the year in the South Western Sydney Regional Volunteers Awards and we walked away with the Volunteer Team of the year in the same awards and we have now been invited to the State Awards in December.
We couldn't have achieved any of this without the help of the Lions Club in Tahmoor who auspiced our fledgling project and jumped in to help whenever they could, most notiably Sharon & Tim Bishop, Cheryl & Jeff Skinner and Craig Curtis, our farm Liasons Gavin Moore and Lynette Rideout and their families who have all volunteered and helped on Sausage sizzles and the like when we asked. Roxy & Vanessa who headed last years hamper drive and many others who helped when asked.
We thought this would be something we would do for a couple of months and Lions Club jumped on board. Once we approached 12 months and no end in sight we needed a new auspice and rural aid jumped in to cover us. Even though we have the backing of a large company now, everything we raise stays local and our fundraising efforts are nowhere over.
Talking to the farmers again last weekend reminds us exactly why we are doing this, it's the little things that we make possible in their world, that remind them they are valuable to our community and that they are not in this alone. So for now we will continue to do what we can while we can.