“YOU don’t know me but …” – it was the voice of Stafford Vinnies conference president Alison Golden on the line – “we have heard about what you are going through and we want to help”.
It was a telephone call that Narooma St Vincent de Paul Society conference president Christine Huntsdale said “came out of the blue”.
Narooma parish is on the New South Wales south coast and its Masses extended into bushfire-ravaged Cobargo, a small town that made international headlines in the thick of the Black Summer.
Vincentians in Narooma had been run off their feet, their sessions jumping from three to 10 a week, and here was Ms Golden, who was from “some place called Stafford”, where a whole parish wanted to run an appeal for them on February 15 and 16.
“It’s just … you can’t find the words to express the fact that a whole bunch of people have thought about you – they don’t know you and they’re a long, long way away from where you are – and they care so much that they’re going to all get together and give what they can,” Ms Huntsdale said.
The sum of money – an “absolutely astounding” sum – was kept a secret, guarded closely by Ms Huntsdale because she wanted Ms Golden to tell the Narooma members herself.
Ms Golden was able to be present at the Narooma conference meeting thanks to a mobile video application, and she revealed Stafford had raised $20,000, which left “jaws dropped”, and the Narooma Vincentians erupted in applause.
A “very large parcel” arrived next.
“I think I counted over 220 letters and cards from Queen of the Apostles school,” Ms Huntsdale said.
“Look – you just had tears in your eyes reading them.
“All these children – from kindergarten to Year 6 – had all written a little card or a little letter of encouragement.
“‘You used to be very strong, you can be strong again’ – all these lovely little messages– ‘you’re awesome’, and all these wonderful drawings and just to be given out to children from families who have lost their homes or been affected by the fires.
“It’s not always just the people who have lost their actual home, but people who have had to actually evacuate and thought they were going to lose their homes and thought they were going to lose their lives are also quite traumatised.”
Ms Huntsdale wanted to contact the school in Cobargo in order to give them out.
Back in Stafford, Ms Golden said she would love to see more parishes involved in helping bushfire-affected communities.
She said Stafford parish priest Fr Denis Scanlan had been the driving force behind the appeal.
“Straight to the people” was how the appeal was run; it had been arranged for the donations not to go into the Canberra Goulburn Vinnies coffers but straight to the Narooma conference where it could be carefully used.
Envelopes had been left on the pews and Ms Golden said she was “staggered”, opening envelopes with $500 in them.
And she said in one way the letters and cards from the kids were “as exciting as the money” because it meant the people of Stafford could be “there” for the people down south.