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Go fund us: Why so many are turning to personal fundraising after the fires

Elka Wood 11 February 2020 20
Jan's home after the flames of Yankees Gap. Photo: Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action.

A destroyed home after the Yankees Gap fire in 2019. Photo: Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action.

The NSW Government committed one billion dollars in early January for bushfire relief efforts, while the Australian Red Cross reports $127 million has been donated to aid recovery. But accessing funds for individuals who have lost a house to fire or suffered property damage is not always easy or immediate.

I learned this first hand this week as I tried to help my parents after fire went through their Tantawaglo property last weekend. We were lucky, the house still stands, but everything else has burnt – carport, sheds, caravan and gardens.

Feeling helpless, I started making calls to find out if they could access any grants or government payments until the insurance claim comes through, allowing them to focus on the cleanup and recovering from the shock.

What I discovered was that specific funding is available through services NSW – funding for stock feed and to replace fences, lost income and soft furnishings damaged by fire, smoke or soot – but general funds, to be used as fire victims see fit, are harder to come by.

Those who have suffered total loss often report that money is the most useful donation.

Louise Smith lost her home in the 2018 Tathra fires.

“People gave me things, which was lovely, but I didn’t have anywhere to put them,” she says.

“I remember the Red Cross gave out gift cards, which we could use as a credit card to shop. That was really helpful.”

The bushfires this summer have led to many people turning to personal fundraising platforms to fill the need, according to GoFundMe Australia’s regional manager Nicola Britton, who reports that 118 GoFundMe campaigns have launched just for the Cobargo area since New Year’s Eve and 70 launched for the Bateman’s Bay area in the same time period.

“In many cases, we’re seeing GoFundMe pages launched for needs that fall outside of traditional government and charity support, created on behalf of families and communities who’d lost everything, often left with limited shelter and resources and requiring immediate support to get back on their feet,” Ms Britton says.

There are general funding options available through local councils and organisations such as the Red Cross but applying for them can require the kind of determination some people in shock don’t possess.

One advantage of personal fundraising is that someone else can launch and manage a campaign for fire victims.

Dylan Birchall, who lives in Melbourne, did just that for his brother, sister-in-law and their two kids after their house in Quaama was burnt on New Year’s Eve.

“I felt totally powerless. I knew they were using the small amount of savings they had on paying for a motel,” Dylan says.

His goal was to raise enough to replace his brother’s work ute so the family could return to earning their normal income as soon as possible.

“I had no experience with accessing insurance claims or emergency funding but I assumed it would take a long time and I knew they needed money soon,” Dylan explains.

Three days after the campaign was set up the family was able to draw from it, and a week later his brother’s new work ute was paid for.

Dylan was blown away by the number of people who wanted to support his brother’s family.

“Seeing those donations come in was really emotional. I was in tears for days,” he shares.

“People from our past came out, all our American relatives we hadn’t seen for years. A guy who sat next to my mom in the Bronx in 9th grade donated!”

Dylan says that being able to donate directly made powerless people watching the fires unfold on the news feel empowered.

“We connect to individual stories, there’s such power in narrative.”

That individual appeal has reached $88,000 to date but Dylan says that being able to tell his brother’s story in an appealing way was one reason the campaign had been so successful.

“GoFundMe is a great tool but it’s not perfect and echoes the inequality in society,” he says.

“Privileged people whose communities are wealthy and tech-savvy will attract more donations than others.”

But otherwise, victims seeking assistance are back to square one – on the phone to service providers trying to prove they meet the criteria for funding.

Original Article published by Elka Wood on About Regional.

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20 Responses to Go fund us: Why so many are turning to personal fundraising after the fires
Acton Acton 4:16 pm 17 Feb 20

Why is there no mention or discussion about the scams associated with go fund me pages? Every time there is a cause needing donations scammers get involved and rip off people.
The article says: “One advantage of personal fundraising is that someone else can launch and manage a campaign for fire victims.” But this fails to recognise that anyone can launch a campaign and claim it is on behalf of a needy cause with funds then going straight to the scammer. Large well known and well organised charities are safer options to ensure our donations (eventually) get to the right people.

Anna Kay Anna Kay 3:49 pm 17 Feb 20

This is why I stopped donating money to charities years ago. I would rather physically go down there and give a hand. Cook a meal for someone or give them a care package.

Claudine Norton Claudine Norton 11:25 pm 16 Feb 20

I would have thought that the donations raised would go to the people affected and wildlife programs. I would expect a minimum of 10 gran up front to everyone 🤔

    Jacy Harding Jacy Harding 8:00 am 17 Feb 20

    This is what i thought as well but on researching it was shocked at what happens. Will donte differently next time, very upset at this😦

Elizabeth Ann Thurbon Elizabeth Ann Thurbon 10:06 am 16 Feb 20

Take a look at Facebook Page - Campbell’s Communities Care - it is a successful story of one community adopting and gifting money to a fire ravaged community

Lyn Kemp Lyn Kemp 10:00 am 16 Feb 20

The total disorganisation and mismanagement by this government of these funds has people who are in desperate need of help put under more duress. Makes you wonder about donating again if your donations aren't going to where most needed in a timely manner.

    Jim Hosie Jim Hosie 12:08 am 17 Feb 20

    Lyn Kemp government? Look at what the red cross is doing with the $95 million raised only spending $30 million of it...

Steve Smith Steve Smith 8:54 am 16 Feb 20

There’s a story that Celeste Barbers $52m is locked up because the RFS isn’t allowed to spend donations on anything other than equipment and training. Just because there was a lot of money donated doesn’t mean the recipients have a plan to spend it.

    Loris Manns Loris Manns 9:51 am 16 Feb 20

    Steve Smith

    I wonder did she ask first what any money raised could be used for! If not would she now do things differently.

    Steve Smith Steve Smith 12:57 pm 16 Feb 20

    Loris Manns absolutely. She’s probably kicking herself right now.

    Jim Hosie Jim Hosie 12:05 am 17 Feb 20

    Steve Smith makes you wonder if the people who have donated believing under the false pretence it was going to bushfire victims have a right to request their donations be returned so they can make them elsewhere.

    Steve Smith Steve Smith 8:03 am 17 Feb 20

    Jim Hosie I don’t think Celeste has ever said it was going anywhere but the RFS. Maybe the donors should have done their homework! Either way, I’m sure intentions were good and it will get fixed.

    Jim Hosie Jim Hosie 8:59 am 17 Feb 20

    Steve Smith yeah nah not really how it was sold but ok

    Tenille Noja Tenille Noja 2:14 pm 19 Feb 20

    Clearly stated on her page that it would ALL go to RFS trust.

Ken Owers Ken Owers 8:40 am 16 Feb 20

There should be a central organisaton set up to collate every coin that was raised for the bushfire relief. This final figure should be used (including Government monetary support) as an off set when the insurance companies meet to discuss increasing premiums to cover their losses. It would also give the Australian public insight to the millions of dollars raised and ow that money has been spent.

Aldo Milin Aldo Milin 8:39 am 16 Feb 20

It's awesome that people donated but given that there were multiple sources one could donate to it was inevitable that it was going to become a discombobulated mess when it came to handing out money to those affected.

Michele Gorman Michele Gorman 7:59 am 16 Feb 20

Australians want to know where all the millions raised have gone? Why don't we know?

    Ross MacPherson Ross MacPherson 1:43 pm 19 Feb 20

    There were way more places collecting money than just Vinnies and Red Cross. Pretty much every second business seemed to be doing it. Some banks were doing it as was Maccas. They need to be asked how much was raised and where it went.

    Ross MacPherson Ross MacPherson 1:49 pm 19 Feb 20

    About the only business I've heard of actually getting donatons (goods more than money) to fire victims is G Spot Gungahlin.

    Though sending goods rather than cash seems to go against what Louise Smith says in the article

    '“People gave me things, which was lovely, but I didn’t have anywhere to put them,” she says'

    Michele Gorman Michele Gorman 4:57 pm 19 Feb 20

    Ross MacPherson G Spot have done an amazing job, totally agree.

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