Community spirit – a beacon of hope in Gippsland’s bushfire affected communities

“It was like a hailstorm of embers, you couldn’t even see. And when the embers finished falling, everything was on fire.”

Meet Brian and Julie, a Sarsfield couple we caught up with at ADRA Bairnsdale’s bushfire recovery centre. ADRA’s just one of our 12 partners in the bushfire impacted regions, helping distribute Foodbank’s emergency food relief hampers to communities in need.

As the fires peaked on the hills above their property, Brian made the difficult choice to stay and fight for his home. As the embers gathered speed and invaded his property, Brian battled the blaze all through the night, making heartbreaking choices about what to save and what to let burn. He lost his treasured garden, a tractor, his front staircase and there was severe damage to an exterior retainer wall – but he feels lucky that his home still stands.

“There’s no longer many trees around the place. All you can see is all the houses that have gone. It’s a bit confronting,” said Brian.

For a small town of 652 residents, more than 130 Sarsfield residents have been displaced by the recent fires. The fires impacted more than 70 percent of homes – 66 were lost.

To help make things a little easier, Brian and Julie have been accessing emergency food and water relief through ADRA Bairnsdale as they join their neighbours on the long journey to recovery.

“The food relief really helps to take a load off your mind. We are still in the process of rebuilding the front of our home and it takes time.”

“The fight isn’t over, it’s going to take at least a year for the community of Sarsfield to recover,” Brian continued.

Despite the significant and devasting loss, the community spirit, resilience and human kindness in the region is sincerely heart-warming.

Beyond the local charities and relief and recovery centres, the Sarsfield Recreation Reserve has been hosting weekly shared meals to help bring the community together. Each week a different organisation and group helps to cater the event with the community bonding over the different cuisines and their shared experiences.

The Nowa Nowa Men’s Choir has also been lifting spirits through song and raising funds to invest back into the nearby communities.

To try and make things easier for Gippsland communities, Foodbank Victoria joined the Sarsfield Community for a twilight pop-up market, bringing in our Farms to Families truck loaded with free fresh fruit and vegetables to the community.

In addition to stocking local pantries, some of the produce purchased with bushfire funds is making its way to farm kitchens to help feed the volunteer tradies who’ve travelled great distances to help rebuild fences, clear the land, and get farming communities back on their feet.

We recently visited ADRA Bairnsdale to make sure they had additional water, food and supplies to continue helping their community through recovery. Merilyn, the Manager at ADRA Barinsdale left a message of thanks for all of your support.

View a timeline of our bushfire response.