Caring gestures lifting hopes in fire-affected communities

Helping hand: Cobden IGA staff, community members and charity representatives celebrate a combined $40,000 donation between the Ritchies Cobden store and the wider IGA network to the fire relief effort. Picture: Christine Ansorge
Helping hand: Cobden IGA staff, community members and charity representatives celebrate a combined $40,000 donation between the Ritchies Cobden store and the wider IGA network to the fire relief effort. Picture: Christine Ansorge

Stories of generosity are helping lift the spirits in the aftermath of the St Patrick’s Day fires.

This week, Cobden’s Ritchies IGA donated $20,000 to the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul to distribute to people in need. The wider IGA Metcash group chipped in another $20,000.

Long-time Cobden manager Paul ‘Herm’ Brebner said contributions like that were adding up to make a difference.

“When it first hit everyone was a bit solemn, then all of a sudden we sparked up through the generosity of this sort of stuff,” he said. 

“Little things like the $40,000 donation, that’s a positive, people start to see that and (the spirit lifts).”

Mr Brebner said almost a month on from the fires, reality was starting to set in for many people.

“I reckon the reality is just really hitting home now, when you start to weigh up the cost and what everyone’s lost and those sorts of things. The peat fires keep going, but even then the schools are going back next week so that’s a positive,” he said.

“The best part about this was that there was no life lost. We can replace everything everyone’s got, but we can’t replace a human life.”

Mr Brebner was helping to fill up fire trucks in Camperdown on the night of the fires and said the tragedy was having unexpected benefits for local CFA brigades.

“Being a firie myself, the fire brigade now, we’re just starting to benefit. I know Camperdown have got three more volunteers because of this fire,” he said.

“And the Ritchies IGA Community Benefits Card, I’ve probably sold about 20 in the last two weeks going to the CFA. That definitely helps things.”

Metcash area manager Anthony Roberts said IGA provided pallets of water as part of the initial reaction to the fires, and later, food relief for affected families.

“All of our local IGA stores were among the first to offer their support,” Mr Roberts said.

“Many of our staff and their families were affected and/or provided help either directly or indirectly.”