Volunteers reach out to fire victims

A group of VCC EM volunteers on the road.

By Danielle Kutchel

As the recovery effort continues, victims of the Bunyip bushfires were last week visited by an outreach team from the Victorian Council of Churches, Emergency Ministries (VCC EM).

VCC EM was invited to the region at the request of Cardinia Shire Council and conducted outreach to all properties within the fire affected footprint from the March fires, a spokesperson for the organisation said.

Approximately 300 properties were visited over five days with 40 VCC EM volunteers providing psychological first aid and emotional spiritual care support where needed.

Teams also provided residents with information packs from the council, including updated information on the agencies available for support, a postcard inviting feedback to council about residents’ current needs, written material aiming to build resilience and preparedness for the upcoming fire season and information about upcoming events.

The spokesperson said feedback to the outreach program was very positive and teams noted the strong feeling of resilience amongst the community, as well as gratitude to the council for following up on residents’ recovery.

“There is a real sense of community connectedness and resilience, with neighbours supporting each other both emotionally and physically with the clean-up of properties,” he said.

“It appears that the community have come closer together as a result of these fires, and there is now a number of social groups that have formed to support each other.

“However, there is still some work to be done in this space with regards to recovery for some residents.”

Cardinia Shire Council’s general manager liveable communities, Tracey Parker, said the council remained committed to the community’s recovery and was working closely with the Community Recovery Committee.

“With community support, Council continues to operate the Recovery Centre at Tonimbuk Hall on Mondays (9-4pm), Wednesdays (1-8pm) and Fridays (9-4pm). Residents are welcome to drop in for ‘a cuppa and a chat’, to access the internet, print or copy information, get assistance with completing forms, or to access material aid and clean-up equipment,” she said.

Tony Fitzgerald, president of the Community Recovery Committee in the fire-affected area, said he was pleased to see the VCC following up on the fires and hearing first-hand from residents about how they are coping.

But he cautioned that some people still feel forgotten by the top community leaders.

“The worst part of the fire recovery according to mental health experts is six months later, with people now facing real stress with their houses, still feeling overwhelmed by the clean-up and people feel that they’ve been forgotten,” he said.

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