The entire country of Australia appears to be on fire. We’re not being dramatic. If you look at a map where all of the active fires are marked, there are red dots everywhere, with larger clusters near the coasts. Over 14.7 million acres of land have been scorched (that’s about the size of the countries of Belgium and Haiti combined).
Despite the devastation the fires have caused, there are people out there doing what they can to ease the situation. In the words of everyone’s favorite neighbor, Mr. Rogers, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
One of those helpers is 52-year-old pharmacist Raj Gupta. Gupta owns the Malua Bay Pharmacy, located in the country’s South Coast. When spreading fires forced local residents to evacuate their homes in the area and head inland, Gupta chose to stay and keep his pharmacy open – even after his own home was destroyed.
The pharmacy doesn’t have lights or power, but Gupta is there, helping people who need their prescriptions filled or other supplies. He told SBS News that he has no plans to close the pharmacy.
“We can’t take payments, but that’s not much of a concern,” he said. “The concern at this time is to make sure people can be helped, that we can fulfil their requests.”
The small coastal community was hit by the fires on New Year’s Eve, when embers from a nearby blaze started raining down on houses. Gupta (pictured below) said some residents had to leave their homes behind with only the clothes on their backs.
(Source: Sushil Kharinta Facebook)
Gupta plans to keep the pharmacy open as long as the main road is still accessible.
“We will pull through as a community, I’m sure,” he said. “We will recover from this and be stronger.”
Another set of helpers who are keeping people fed in fire-affected regions is a group of Sikh volunteers.
The organization ‘Sikh Volunteers Australia’ has been traveling to areas devastated by the fires to prepare and serve hot meals to victims. The group usually operates out of Melbourne, where they help feed the less fortunate in their community. But, as one of the volunteers said, the situation with the bushfires was “too big to ignore,” so they packed up a passenger van with food and cooking supplies and hit the road.
(Source: Sikh Volunteers Australia Facebook)
Local residents provide kitchens for the volunteers to use to prepare the food and they stay “until the situation gets normal.”
In one town, the chef prepared around 400 meals to feed bushfire victims three times a day, without much rest.
(Source: Sikh Volunteers Australia Facebook)
You can make a donation to Sikh Volunteers Australia by clicking here.
Another initiative that is doing big things for the country is ‘Slabs for Heroes,’ a volunteer-run community group thats been gathering supplies for fire and rescue crews and people who have been displaced from their homes due to the fires.
(Source: #SLABSFORHEROES Facebook)
A recent collection by the group in the town of Canberra pulled together over 70 tonnes (that’s over 150K pounds!) of donated items from fruit cups to face masks.
Slabs for Heroes mainly uses social media to get the word out about what they need and where and when they’ll be taking goods, and they work with truck companies who donate their time and vehicles to get the supplies where they need to go.
One of the group’s members, Roseanne Howes, posted to Facebook after a recent collection day.
“You know when you have expectations and how disappointed you are if they are not met? WELL DANG THATS NOT HOW I FELT TODAY or for that matter any other day that #SLABSFORHEROES has been on the job.”
People interested in donating to Slabs for Heroes can check out the public Facebook group for more information.
While the stories of people across the country volunteering and donating is heartening, the truth is the country is in need of so much more. While you may not live anywhere near the Outback, you can help out by contributing to any of the following organizations:
Help the Firefighters
If you’d like to support the brave men and women actually fighting the fires, you can donate to the state of Victoria’s Country Fire Association.
Help the Wildlife
Sydney University estimates that more than 480 million animals have died in the fires since September, including a third of the country’s koala population. Consider donating to the following organizations to support wildlife in affected regions:
Help Those Affected
Some families have lost everything in the fires. Consider donation to organizations that are on the ground and helping people get their basic needs met by providing food, shelter and clothing.
These are just a few of the many organizations that are taking donations to help Australia. If you’d like to learn more about how you can help, this is a good resource, or you can do a Google search for an area or cause that you’d like to support.
Let’s #StartSomethingGood together.