Living in a small, rundown shearers’ hut, with two older children – pregnant, then with a baby – through years of severe drought, Sarah* says there have been some dark days.
However, she and husband Rob* have also been moved beyond belief by the kindness of strangers.
They had always given to others, and never asked for help, but Salvos rural chaplains Jon and Leah Belmonte heard about their struggles and approached them.
Sarah explains that as the drought bit harder, they were forced to sell much of their stock.
“We’d had cattle, 2500 sheep before the drought and about 1000 goats, but then it (just) didn’t rain. At one stage, we couldn’t afford stockfeed so my husband was climbing up Kurrajong trees with a chainsaw and a ladder every day cutting scrub to feed our (remaining) stock.
“I couldn’t help any longer when I was heavily pregnant – and then I went to hospital for a C-section.”
Salvation Army rural chaplains Jon and Leah Belmonte heard about the couple and contacted them.
“Jon rang me up and said, ‘Look, we could come out for a few days to help you and we could help you with some other stuff from a financial point of view (from the Salvos drought appeal)’,” Sarah says.
The Belmontes found out the couple had no income, with their paddocks turned to dust through prolonged drought. They were living in a very rundown, old shearers’ hut, with only murky dam water to bathe in – where insects and snakes could not be kept out.
The Salvos’ help made a huge difference
“(The help from Jon and Leah) was a saving grace for us because we had bills coming and we had nothing. They also helped with water tanks,” Sarah shares.
“We hadn’t had an income from the farm for years. Because we had stock to try and feed every day, my husband couldn’t work off-farm. We had healthy animals dying, too. You can’t help becoming heartbroken by it – it’s just devastating.
“Like most people, we never needed charity before now, so it was a bit of a pride swallowing moment when Jon contacted us. But it made all the difference in the world.”
Sarah says that before meeting Jon and Leah, “We didn’t know much about The Salvation Army, but we always gave to them. No matter where we were, the charity we always gave to was The Salvation Army.
“We had no idea that they had bush chaplains or anything like that.”
The couples have since stayed in touch and, in fact, Jon and Leah stayed with the family on a couple of occasions while reaching out to other farmers in the vicinity.
Unexpected Christmas blessing
Then, in November last year, Jon and Leah again contacted Rob and Sarah – this time to tell them they were to be given an extra “Christmas gift”.
An anonymous donor was giving 10 drought-ravaged farming families each a significant gift through The Salvation Army rural chaplains – and Jon and Leah had nominated them.
For Rob and Sarah, it was to be used for some desperately needed repairs on their farmhouse. Years earlier, the family had “temporarily” moved into the old shearer’s quarters on the family farm where Rob had lived since he was a baby. It was intended as a short-term move while they worked on the farmhouse, which was uninhabitable. At that time, the couple had also invested on some pasture improvement projects to better carry stock.
Then, sadly, drought gripped the area. “You could just pick up handfuls of red dirt, no grass,” Sarah says. It continued year after year and, with finances tight, their temporary home became more permanent.
“We still live in the shearers’ quarters,” Sarah laughs. “But really you get used to it. Currently our bathroom is outside – which is basically the laundry, the bath, the shower – you can’t open the windows, you can’t open the doors.
“(The additional help from the anonymous donor to the Salvos) was just so unexpected, because all we’d been thinking about and trying to focus on was how to get to the next day, how to get that next bill paid, and do we have enough money to buy food.
“So, to think that somebody else was thinking that way and that we were the recipients, was very overwhelming for us,” Sarah says, fighting back tears.
“It has given us a faith in people, in human kindness and in the generosity of people who have no need to give to complete strangers – but do anyway. It is mind blowing to us.”
Writing later to thank their anonymous donor, they promised to, in turn, help others as soon as they are able to do so. They wrote (in part): “We are so overwhelmed by the generosity you have shown to us. No words can explain how we felt when we received the news of your donation. Emotions took over and the tears began to flow …”
Other organisations, such as the local Rotary Club and a mobile preschool, have since also helped the family and many others in the local community.
Sarah says that between the Salvos’ news and gifts from Rotary and mobile preschool, the family had a beautiful Christmas 2019. (They had had not been able to celebrate Christmas 2018 at all.)
“Oh emotionally, financially, it was just so amazing … through the kindness of others.
Writing to thank Jon and Leah, Rob and Sarah concluded by saying: “You are both so kind and generous and we are forever grateful. When we are in a better position … we will pay it forward and pass on to others the kindness and generosity we have both received.”
The Salvos are committed to helping you overcome financial stress and find hope for the future. If you need help, we’re here for you.