The fire recovery services helping hundreds affected by the St Patrick's Day fires has received funding to continue aiding recovering communities.
The bushfire relief van has served as a mobile outreach service since the 2018 fires, providing recovery services to the Hawkesdale, Gazette and Garvoc districts.
The Department of Health and Human Services approved $76,000 to extend the Moyne Shire's Fire Recovery program by six months.
Recovery manager Sue Rondeau said the funding would enable her team to continue working and progressing fire affected areas.
"It means an extension of our effort can continue for another six months," she said.
"For 14 months we've been working side-by-side with the communities affected and provided a place where they can come, have a chat and feel supported.
"It's a little less funding than we've received previously had but it means we can still stay engaged with the communities."
At this stage, it is hoped by the end of the six months the additional funding covers, the communities will be able to manage without the van services. The reduced funding also means the workload for recovery manager Ms Rondeau and Mat Deans has been cut back to three days and one day a week respectively.
On a Tuesday the van travels to Gazette and sets up on the side of the road inviting the locals to come, have a cup of tea and converse with each other about everything or anything.
On a Thursday, the cycle continues in Gavoc.
A staple in the weekly calendar for many the service is a necessity.
Jill Porter and her family regularly attend the Gavoc van service.
As a strong advocate for the continuation of the services, she hopes the van will help her community long into the future.
"Moyne Shire was very proactive by starting the recovery efforts early in the piece," she said.
"Mat and Sue came out and listened to our community needs and got the van going.
"Initially I thought it was a hocus pocus idea as I've worked in community and rural health for 25 years. But the engagement of the van has been absolutely incredible."
Mrs Porter attributes much of the survival of her community to the fire van services and the comfortable approach it brings.
"Recovery from a traumatic event such as the fires is a six-year process," she said.
"The van stepped beyond infrastructure and they built trust and rapport with our community.
"Mat and Sue walked the journey with us. Sometimes they were in front to guide us, sometimes they were at the back to give us the support we needed but mostly they were beside us.
I've seen farmers who live 500 metres away from each other who had never spoken to each other before, open up and start sharing the intimate parts of their lives over a cup of tea at the van.Mat Deans
"They delivered exactly what we needed when we needed.
"The van was just a shell - Mat and Sue and what they deliver is the solution and that's what needs to continue."
One of the two trusted faces of the van, Mat Deans, hopes by the end of the six months the affected communities would have built themselves to a point where his services are no longer needed.
"The ultimate goal is definitely to have communities managing themselves," he said.
"You can see new communities building before your eyes at these gatherings.
"It's magical. I've seen farmers who live 500 metres away from each other who had never spoken to each other before, open up and start sharing the intimate parts of their lives over a cup of tea at the van."
Moyne Shire Mayor, Councillor Mick Wolfe said the recovery program includes the van, which serves as a mobile office for two part-time team members, home visits, community events, project coordination and other ongoing support to those affected by the fires.
"Since the recovery program began, Council's team has provided support to more than 100 people affected by the fires," Cr Wolfe said.
"Whether it be through direct contact at the van or in their homes, via phone and text messages, or through events like pizza nights and ladies lunches, the program gives affected people a connection to help them recover.
"The program is helping people to not only connect with Council and local health services, but also connect with their neighbours and wider communities as they share their stories and support each other.
"Council works closely with South West Healthcare's counsellors to provide accessible mental health support to those affected."
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