Shining the light of goodness and care – Christmas after catastrophic floods

10 November 2023

Shining the light of goodness and care – Christmas after catastrophic floods

On 28 February 2022, Lismore and other communities in the NSW Northern Rivers region experienced a catastrophic flood – Australia’s largest recorded flood, and Australia’s costliest natural disaster. This was soon followed by another flood in March 2022. Helping people celebrate Christmas last year was no easy task, according to local Salvation Army officers, but it was made easier through the love, goodness and generosity of others.

Lismore-based Salvos officers Donna and Phil Sutcliffe get surprised when people from out of town assume everything is now fine in Lismore after multiple flooding events decimated Lismore and other areas in the Northern Rivers region of NSW.

“The media moves on to the next disaster, but last Christmas, there were probably more than 1000 people in Lismore alone, with many more in surrounding areas, still without housing – bunking with family and friends, in motel rooms or caravans, or in shells or sections of houses,” Phil says.

While they expect Christmas 2023 to be somewhat better, the Sutcliffes say that frustrations around bureaucracy, insurance, lack of trades and costs and availability of materials will mean another tough Christmas for many locals of the New South Wales Northern Rivers region.

Trauma from disaster

“A lot of people who were flood-affected were physically rescued from their rooftops so there’s ongoing emotional fallout from that,” Donna explains.

“There’s the trauma of having no home, having to wait to figure insurance and other stuff out, and not being allowed to do anything on your place while you wait. That’s compounded with having to explain all of your circumstances to every government organisation and charity and then learning you might not be eligible for help or insurance after all, but that someone down the street is.

“Many have been left completely stranded again in a sense,” she shares.

bags of donated items

Post-flood support Christmas 2022 and beyond

Last Christmas, 10 months after the first of the series of catastrophic flooding events hit the area, the Sutcliffes knew they wanted to do something special for the community for Christmas.

While The Salvation Army was already playing a role in flood assistance recovery support, which included allocation of grants and a number of flood outreach workers, the Sutcliffes and their small team knew that local families would need some special care and support at Christmas time.

They knew they couldn’t begin to solve the almost insurmountable problems many locals were facing, but they could pray, and plan to bring some joy and hope.

Donna says: “We started planning for last Christmas [support] very early on, knowing the size and scale of the disaster. I have to say, God’s provision was so apparent from the very moment we thought about Christmas and his provision was so real every single step of the way.”

warehouse of items donated to Lismore Salvos

Christmas abundance for Salvos team support

The small Salvation Army team talked with other local, national and international agencies, including Good360, Oz Harvest, Kmart Wishing Tree, Kmart and Big W for support and assistance.

Phil says goods and gifts “just kept rolling in” – including a truckload of toys from The Salvation Army’s Streetlevel service in Sydney, pallets of chocolates and Easter goods that had been due to go a local store (which couldn’t open for some time as it was flood-affected), vouchers for groceries, toys and goods from large and small businesses and locals. A local church gave the team space as a Christmas warehouse and for sorting, and a large rug manufacturer donated hundreds of rugs.

“Traditionally, across the Northern Rivers we might have done 150 to 180 hamper bags [to support and assist families in need]. Last Christmas, we ended up packing about 650 hamper bags. We were also able to give craft supplies and other goods to a local flood-affected daycare centre,” he explains.

“Stuff just kept coming and people kept offering and were so generous and kind. People and organisations were coming in saying, ‘Look, we’ve only got this,’ but it was all such a blessing. There’s no such thing as ‘only’.”

The Wiggles, Corps Officers Donna and Phil Sutcliffe, and emergency services outside

Christmas joy in tough times

The logistics of sorting goods, distributing goods and caring for so many families was “a marathon effort,” but Donna and Phil say it was totally worthwhile.

“Just to see their faces as they went out was such a joy. We had a number of families in tears. They went out loaded up – there was just this sense of abundance,” Phil says.

If you are experiencing challenges this Christmas, the Salvos are here to help you find light in the darkness.

As Christians, Donna and Phil love and celebrate Christmas as a special and precious season, celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Phil says: “Christmas is such a beautiful time for families. In our family we love to spend time together, to enjoy each other’s company, and to focus again on the birth of Jesus and the hope that that provides our world and us.”

Donna says: “Last Christmas there was sadness in our community, but also joy. There were quite a number of families whose kids lost everything – all their toys in the floods. And families didn’t think they could give many toys as they were struggling with costs of things like building materials.

“So, families were overwhelmed with the thought that others would bless them in this way to have a proper Christmas.

“When we think of last Christmas in the Northern Rivers, there are a few words that come to mind: ‘abundant’, ‘blessings’, ‘generosity’ and ‘love’,” Donna smiles.

So many people were generous so that we could be generous. And love was everywhere – it really was!”

Christmas is a celebration of the love of Jesus and the hope he can offer us. Learn more and celebrate with us at The Salvation Army this Christmas.

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