When the bushfires ripped through Kangaroo Island last summer, Kingscote local Catherine Kewley, with the help of her husband Tony and an army of volunteers, jumped into action to facilitate donations worth more than $1 million in goods and cash to help bushfire-affected families.
Those donations, made to Kewley’s Island Care charity shop and then distributed to victims, have included shipments that arrived from the United States and China, about 50 generators, tonnes of food, clothes and beddings, farming tools and equipment, and cash.
“There was one person from the mainland who donated $50,000 in cash,” Kewley told InDaily.
“That was given straight to a farming family for expenses to get their fences back up… that was just done very quietly to (the donor’s) wishes and he knew we would get it done immediately.
“Things came from everywhere – they would literally just arrive on our doorstep.
“We were getting about five truckloads a day, some days 18 pallets of vegetables… everything you can imagine, really.
“We’ve also converted cash to vouchers according to people’s wishes, more vouchers are going out this week.
“It’s just been incredible – people will ring me and say ‘I want you to go and do this for that family’. Others just say ‘go and get the food that you need’.”
Island Care has assisted about 125 families with food, household and workplace essentials and money to get back on their feet since the devastating fires in late December and early January to destroyed almost half of Kangaroo Island.
While many of those families have now received insurance pay-outs, Catherine says Island Care is helping about 40 families that are still “doing it really tough”.
Kewley says some families have fallen through the cracks.
“There’s been some grants but some of them are not available to everybody,” Kewley says.
“One family has only received $5000 (from the State Government). That’s it, that’s all they’ve got. That’s not enough, they’ve lost everything.
“They are currently living off their insurance, which means they don’t have money to rebuild their house and finish their fencing because they only got paid out a certain amount.
“They are doing everything they can, but in reality they’re not going to be able to rebuild their house because they have to use their money to rebuild fences and replace livestock they’ve lost. It’s just going to take years and years.”
While InDaily was at Island Care, a farmer arrived to collect a food parcel for his family and a women stopped in to pick up some blankets.
“About 20 food parcels still go out each week, and there’s about 20 other families we do other things for – it might be a kettle, or clothing, whatever they need,” said Kewley.
“Out of all the families I would say there’s about 25 that are really not recovering very well (because) they weren’t insured properly, and there’s at least 45 that will be income affected for more than two years, and even then they won’t be breaking even. You’re looking at probably 10 years for some families to really get back to where they were.
“Then there’s the people that were breeding (livestock). That was a lifetime of work lost.”
Kewley describes running Island Care as her life’s work.
“It’s the right thing to do, that’s basically it, we should be helping one another,” said Kewley.
The Island Care charity shop is closed to the public on Thursdays, when it operates as a distribution centre for bushfire-affected families, staffed by about eight volunteers who help prepare parcels for collection.
One of those volunteers is Maureen Hinves from Pelican Lagoon, who has been helping prepare parcels for families since the fires started in late December.
“In Pelican Lagoon, we weren’t affected by the fires,” said Hinves.
“I felt guilty not being able to do anything (to help), so I came down and asked Catherine if she needed any help, and so I’ve been doing this ever since.
“I just love coming here. I just feel as though I’m doing something for people that haven’t got everything they need at this time, whereas I’ve got everything I need myself. So I don’t feel guilty anymore.”
Island Care is currently working towards establishing a drop off centre for donations of food and other items in Adelaide.
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