Christmas is just around the corner and northern rivers residents are being urged to put a little something extra in their shopping baskets to help struggling farmers out west who are doing it tough.
Clunes resident Anne Thompson, who organizes Christmas food parcels for farming families in dought-stricken communities, said the situation this year was desperate.
‘I’ve been in touch with rural councillors at Bourke and Walgett, where we sent hundreds of parcels last year, and they’re saying it’s twice as bad this year,” Mrs Thompson told Echonetdaily.
‘There’s been no rain and some farmers have had no income for four years. They farm grains and sheep and some cattle out that way but I don’t think they’ve even been able to plant a crop this year.
‘It costs so much to put in the seed and if there’s no rain it’s wasted and they are further in debt.’
Mrs Thompson – with the help of friends and the wider community – began helping the farmers out 20 years ago.
‘I started by persuading the sugar cane farmers to bail up the cane tops for fodder instead of burning them and as it got close to Christmas we started putting Christmas hampers in with the bails.
‘Now I just concentrate on the Christmas hampers, which include food, toiletries and gifts and toys.
She said the record number of Christmas hampers stands at 757, with 450 sent last year. With the drought continuing unabated, Mrs Thompson is hoping to beat the record this year.
She doesn’t rely on the big corporations for help.
‘The donations come mainly from people like pensioners, and predominantly people who grew up on the land and know what it is like,’ she said.
‘It all adds up though and I’ve wasted a lot of time in the past chasing the big corporations.’
‘One year I wrote to (a large toiletries company) and they sent me three bars of soap. I sent it back saying your need is obviously greater than mine.’
‘It was insulting so I don’t waste energy chasing them anymore.
Mrs Thompson is asking for non-perishable food items and said, “We only have to look in our own cupboards!”
She is also appealing to Lions Clubs for Christmas cakes and puddings, and suggested that people might get together with work mates, family, neighbours and schools to start collecting goods.
Suggested items include tins of fruit/vegetables/tuna/salmon, jars of jam, vegemite, sauces, spreads, packets biscuits, cake mixes, jellies, custard powder, pasta/rice, tea/coffee, lollies (but no chocolate, packets of chips etc. as they don’t travel well,) dried fruit/nuts and Christmas treats.
‘Toys and gifts are also needed as there would be none otherwise!’ she said
‘It means a lot to farmers. It lifts their spirits and makes them realise that they are not forgotten as they battle drought, dust and depression,’ she said.
‘Every four days there is a suicide in the farming community!’
She said financial donations could be paid into an account, which has been set up through the Bangalow Lions Club BSB 728-728 A/C No:22266650 Bangalow Lions Drought Management.
‘Money enables us to buy what we run out of or need to make these Christmas Hampers really special,’ she said.
Drop Off places so far include Lismore: Jontom Car Sales, Dawson St; Lismore Square, crate outside Woolies; Ballina, Wallace’s in River Street and Ballina Bait and Fuel (West Ballina).
Others include the Byron Anglican Church Mon/Fri 9-1pm, the Alstonville Uniting Church Op Shop, and in Casino at Eric Box Mitsubishi.
Mrs Thompson said drop off points could also be organised for the Tweed and Grafton districts.
She said packing would take place at the Eltham Hall from early November and the closing date would be the beginning of December to ensure the parcels arrived in time for Christmas.
‘It takes a lot of organizing because it’s all got to travel so far,’ she said.
‘All freight is donated by TAMEX, a transport company based in Tamworth. (their agent here is Lismore/Tenterfield Transport), and Mills Transport sends a forklift out to help load the pallets.
The Clunes Rural Fire Service members also pitch in to help load the trucks.
Mrs Thompson said volunteers would be needed to help pick up the goods from around the region and pack the boxes.
Anyone who can help should contact her on 66291041 or 0412910523.
Once the parcels land out west, Mrs Thompson said the rural councils help deliver them, but a couple named Bessie and Bill Lambert of Mungindi do a particularly amazing job.
‘They live 50 miles from their nearest neighbours and they have to go 70 miles just to get fuel,’ she said.
‘Yet they travel for miles, even on Christmas day, to deliver hampers.’
Mrs Thompson is hoping northern rivers residents will show the same Christmas spirit by giving generously to the North Coast Drought Appeal.