South Arm pantry: One-stop-shop for survival

The usually capacious South Arm Hall is a bit of rabbit warren currently; it's a duck and weave-type affair in order to walk from one side to the other.

Piles of boxes full of donated canned goods, personal hygiene products, and some mystery items which have more than a few people stumped, are being diligently sorted into some semblance of an order by an ever-changing group of local volunteers.

The South Arm pantry is acting as a one-stop shop for bushfire survivors from South Arm, Yarranbella, and even some from Taylors Arm.

And its aim is to support these locals to remain on their properties while they rebuild their lives.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire South Arm's Kara Welch was supported by Adam Wake, Jodi Radford and Hope for the Homeless, alongside the Anglican Church's Tony Fuller and Judy Ward from the Macksville Ex-Services to deliver care-packs to those in need in the community.

Kara is also grateful for the help from Laura Graham, Jason Donovan and Alissa Hastings, and for the donations from the Red Cross and Council towards the community's 'Out of The Ashes' event.

She said when the needs of the community changed, the pantry became a workable alternative to support the community.

"We've got groceries, water, clothing, tarps and tents - anything you need to survive, we've got," Beck Beverley said.

Beck mans the pantry three days a week: on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. While she's there she usually whips up a freshly-cooked lunch for anyone who drops in. She also freezes the leftovers for people to take back home.

"The other day we had a roast. After weeks of eating tinned soups and stews, people really appreciate it," she said.

She also sometimes acts as enforcer, to ensure those who need help the most get first dibs.

Around twenty people a day will come and use the pantry - but the number often varies.

We've got groceries, water, clothing, tarps and tents - anything you need to survive, we've got.

And many farmers driving in to do some fencing work on their property will stop in on their way for some water, and to have a chat.

"It's a way for them to connect - to be heard and valued," Beck said.

"Every time they ring up to apply for any assistance they have to repeat their story again and again," she said.

The process is triggering and can often leave them feeling cold - having people really listen to them is one of the most important services the "pantry" offers.

While we're talking, a truck with donations from Foodbank arrives. Foodbank is the largest hunger-relief charity in Australia, but due to the extent of the bushfire crisis, Beck said this is the first time since November that anything from Foodbank has arrived at the hall.

On days in which the pantry is shut, and late into the evening, Beck tenaciously pores through relief information and hunts for any agencies able to give a helping hand. Many of the donations so far have come from Sydney, the Central Coast and a little town called Kandos.

The word on the street in town recently was that there was an overabundance of donations and no more were needed.

This is only partly true.

While items like bed linen are a little premature right now, when many are still living in makeshift accommodations, the need for food items hasn't waned.

Beck said fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, herbs and spices, and sauces and marinades are particularly welcome.

But what's needed most is water.

"We can get a pallet of water and it's gone in a day," Beck said.

The flurry of activity at the hall can look deceptively like the pace of recovery is picking up. But the reality is we're still in the first few yards of a marathon, and the compassion and strength of the Nambucca Valley and those altruists further afield will be needed for some time yet.

If you would like to donate supplies, or volunteer your services, please contact Beck at beck.beverley9@gmail.com.

Edited February 5 to reflect additional information provided by Kara Welch

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