Boosting spirits out west
FOR 20 years Eltham's Anne Thompson has been leading Christmas relief efforts for drought-stricken farmers out west. This year the job is as urgent as it gets.
In the lush Northern Rivers we are barely affected by the big dry but drive only a few hours west and it's a very different story.
Farmers in some areas have endured drought for at least two summers now, and with a hotter and drier El Nino system more than likely to descend soon, the future prognosis doesn't look any better.
When Ms Thompson started the Christmas drought appeal in the 1990s, she organised fodder for starving cattle by persuading cane growers to cut and bale cane tops.
A few years later she began adding Christmas boxes and toys, to give desperate and downtrodden families a special Christmas pep-up.
In many cases it's not just about helping struggling farmers through an almost impossible financial situation, but also saving lives.
People who live in rural areas are at a higher risk of suicide, and Queensland statistics show agricultural workers are twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population.
"All these items are luxuries to farmers who have had no income for over two years in many cases," Ms Thompson said. "I know from the boxes of cards, letters and emails we've received over the years, just how much this means to farming families who otherwise would not be having Christmas.
"It lifts their spirits and makes them realise that they are not forgotten as they battle drought, dust and depression."
Often all it takes to help is a quick glance in your pantry to find non-perishable items that can survive the trip west.
Volunteers to help sort and pack donations are also wanted from early November.
What to donate
Packets: Rice, pasta, tea, coffee, cakes, biscuits, cereals, lollies.
Jars: Jam, peanut butter, vegemite, pickles etc.
Tins: Fruit, veggies, soup, tuna, salmon, ham etc.
Christmas cakes and pudding most welcome
Toys: For children of various ages and gifts for adults.
Where to donate:
Lismore: Jontom Car Sales, Dawson St.
Lismore Square, crate outside Woolies
Ballina: Wallace's Store, River Street and Ballina Bait and Fuel (West Ballina).
Byron Bay: Anglican Church Mon-Fri 9am-1pm,
Alstonville: Uniting Church Op Shop, Wed/Fri 1pm-4pm
Casino: Eric Box Mitsubishi.
Donations can also be paid into an account set up through the Bangalow Lions Club - BSB 728-728 A/C No:22266650 Bangalow Lions Drought Management.
Enquiries: Anne Thompson: 6629 1041 or 0412 910 523