Salvation Army boosts aid for drought-stricken farmers in Australia

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By Lauren Martin and Simone Worthing –

The Salvation Army is contributing an additional $733,000 (AUD$1 million) to support farmers and other Australians battling one of the worst droughts in over a century.

Rural chaplains, officers and other staff ministering in drought-affected areas are conducting regular visits to farmers and rural communities, distributing food hampers, helping with bill payments and other financial expenses, assisting with farm and household jobs, and providing emotional and practical support.

Rusty and Dianne Lawson rural chaplains in New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populous state, say it’s hard to comprehend the horrific circumstances many farmers are dealing with right now.

“It’s only when you see the tears that you get a real sense of how broken and hopeless the situation has become,” Rusty Lawson said. “We are seeing farmers going without their medication to pay for the needs of their livestock. Many are starting to seriously wonder what the future holds for them.”

In a letter to The Salvation Army, one farmer assisted by the Lawsons said, “I didn’t like having to ask for assistance. Farmers seem to be so proud and want to do it alone. But for the first time in 25 years of farming, I felt like it was time to reach out and allow someone else to help us out. It took a lot for me emotionally to ask for help, but I finally figured I was a farmer, so maybe it is OK to ask. The overwhelming thoughtfulness has been a godsend during this tough time.”

In Tamworth, western NSW, The Salvation Army is at the heart of a local drought relief campaign called “R U Aware We Care?” initiated by the local radio station 88.9 FM. Tamworth Corps Officer Captain Rhonda Clutterbuck said the amount of donations has been staggering, with 750 milk crates full of donations from Newy Farmer Aid in Newcastle, 36 pallets of food products from Kellogg’s and two trailers of dog food, as well as individual and other small-business donations.

Despite the overwhelming support for those affected by the drought, Clutterbuck said there are still some farmers who won’t ask for support.

“They’re people who have worked hard all their life and they’re just too proud to ask for assistance,” she said. “But if a farmer can’t or won’t come in and their neighbor comes in and is worried about them, we give their neighbor the hampers and they deliver to them direct. We don’t force things on anybody, but we do want to help.”

In the far west, most farmers have de-stocked their properties and are just trying to keep their breeders going in the drought. They are also battling kangaroos and emus who consume any remaining resources, and wild dogs that attack their stock. Moreover, they’re trying to work out how to secure additional feed, how to pay for it and how to negotiate with their banks.

Majors Robin and David Pullen, Rural Chaplains, Broken Hill, visit people across their vast area to offer financial assistance, encouragement and hope.

“One of the people we’ve made contact with, the first person we visited on their property, was telling us that in the last drought, The Salvation Army turned up, just when he was on the brink of losing his property,” Robin Pullen said. “He can’t remember the officers’ names, but they helped him financially, which meant he could save his property. He is forever grateful.”

Major Mark Bulow, South West Queensland Flying Service, based in Dalby, said he’s been able to pay grocery bills for those in particularly difficult circumstances and assist with emergency items, but for him, the priority is coming alongside people, seeing how they are and continuing to build relationships.

“The relationships I have are critical,” he said. “It means that, in the still of night when people often need it most, they can pick up the phone and call. There is trust already established.”

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