Bushfires have wreaked havoc across Australia, so far claiming the lives of 23 people and destroying more than 1500 homes. This fire season, which began early in September, has reportedly burned about 6 million hectares of land, which is about the same size as mainland Tasmania (6.4 million hectares). The season traditionally ends in March.
All the while, the rest of Australia – and, indeed, the world – has been watching in horror. Donations to charities helping the victims and fire services have followed, including to a Facebook campaign kicked off by Australian comedian Celeste Barber which has raised more than $50 million so far. Ms Barber’s relatives were forced to evacuate their home at Eden, in New South Wales, after flames ringed the town. The funds will go to the NSW Rural Fire Service and Brigade. To put that amount of money in perspective, it costs about $500,000 to buy a new fire truck.
Australian Bushfire information and updates: Resources here.
Separately, a fundraising benefit run during the ABC’s screening of New Year’s Eve fireworks show netted more than $10 million.
This is legit terrifying… How can you even stop this? pic.twitter.com/nsBbYoGYDx
— Lannan (@Lazarbeam) January 4, 2020
A galaxy of celebrities have also pitched in, including Aussie actress Nicole Kidman and US singer Pink, who each donated $500,000, to rural fire services, and US talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who gave money to the Red Cross and other charities.
It’s almost impossible to understand the size and destruction of the fires in Australia. Here are three organizations I’ve already donated to. I hope you’ll donate, too. @NSWRFS @RedCrossAU @WIRES_NSW
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) January 4, 2020
Australian actor Chris Hemsworth and his family donated $1 million, telling his millions of fans: “Hopefully, you guys can chip in too. Every penny counts, so whatever you can muster up is greatly appreciated”. He also put together a webpage of links, listing charities collecting funds.
Australian cookbook author and fitness influencer Sophie Guidolin raised $1 million via a Facebook campaign, donating the funds yesterday to the New South Wales and South Australian volunteer firefighters. She has launched another campaign to support those effected by the Kangaroo Island fires, which killed two people.
How to donate to the bushfire victims
A list of official organisations to which people can donate money include:
Victorian Bushfire Appeal
The Victorian Bushfire Appeal has so far raised $2 million, with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews pledging that the State Government will match donations dollar-for-dollar. The fundraising effort is a partnership between the government, Bendigo Bank and The Salvation Army.
Accepting cash donations to fund support at evacuation centres, emergency assistance such as cash grants to people who have lost their homes; psychological first aid, longer-term recovery programs, paying for volunteer helper expenses
Accepting cash donations and limited donations of specific food. Check what is needed in your area. It says it is using funds to collect food and transport it to impacted areas.
According to the charity, $1 donated = 2 meals for people affected by Australia’s fire disaster.
The Salvation Army
Accepting cash donations for its Disaster Appeal which is helping provide meals to evacuees and frontline responders
St Vincent de Paul Society Bushfire Appeal
Asking for monetary donations rather than goods “at this point”.
The charity says it is providing food, clothing, essential items, grocery vouchers for people affected by the fires. It’s also using money raised to help those affected by the fires pay unexpected bills during the recovery process, and to fund expenses of workers and volunteers, including those providing emotional support and referrals to other agencies
Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal’s Disaster Resilience and Recovery Fund
This Bendigo-based charity funds disaster preparedness campaigns, as well as recovery initiatives.
It says it pools together funds raised and then gives grants to rural and regional community organisations which apply for assistance.
How to donate goods to the bushfire victims
At times, it can be difficult for some agencies to cope with the huge influx of donated goods during a crisis. Organisations such as the Red Cross and Foodbank suggest researching online to find out exactly what is needed by organisations before deciding on what to donate. They also both suggest that financial donations are “the easiest way to support those in need” during a crisis. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has requested that people stop donating items and to send cash donations, instead.
I know it’s tough to watch this all unfold & feel helpless. I know a lot of people want to get stuck in & lend a hand. But it’s important to remember that the emergency relief effort is being run by experienced organisations – & they don’t have space to sort or store donations.
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) January 5, 2020
Matches people in need with specific donations. Check their site to see what is needed. Also accepting cash donations to purchase “essential items”.
How to donate to help out fire services in affected areas
New South Wales Rural Fire Service – https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/volunteer/support-your-local-brigade
Country Fire Authority Victoria – https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/about/supporting-cfa
South Australian Country Fire Service – https://cfsfoundation.org.au/donate
Rural Fire Brigades Association Queensland – https://www.rfbaq.org/donate-to-rfbaq
How to donate to help out wildlife
A number of charities are collecting donations that will specifically go to helping wildlife recover from the bushfires. They include:
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
The hospital’s GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $3.6 million so far. Money raised is being used to treat and rehabilitate injured koalas; fund drinking stations and water carrying vehicles for koalas in the wild; and to support a koala breeding program.
World Wildlife Fund
Uses funds raised to treat injured animals and restore their habitat.
The New South Wales Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service is raising funds that will be used to pay for food, medication, rescue equipment, replacement of rehabilitation enclosures destroyed in the fires, and other essential items.
RSPCA NSW have inspectors and staff in the disaster zone, helping out in evacuations and assisting animal owners keep their lifestock and pets safe. Once the danger period has passed, RSPCA officers will help government health workers assess injured animals. RSPCA say donated funds will be used to help rescue and treat injured animals.
A warning about bushfire fundraising scams
There are a plethora of other people and organisations asking for donations for bushfire victims and firefighting associations. Government agency Scamwatch warns that anyone thinking about donating should do their research.
“If you are considering making a donation to a bushfire appeal, donate wisely by thoroughly checking that you are donating to a legitimate organisation. Don’t let scammers appeal to your generous side,” Scamwatch states.
The organisation received many reports of scams targeting people after the 2009 Victorian bushfires, and other media have reported that heartless scammers are active again during this crisis.
Scamwatch offers advice to individuals who are contacted by charities using different methods:
Street collector: Ask for identification, and if in doubt, contact the organisation directly (find the contact details from an independent source, such as a phone book) before donating.
Door collectors or phone contact: Ask for the charity’s full name, address and how the proceeds will be used. If they become defensive and cannot answer your questions, close the door or hang up.
Email: If you receive an email from an unverified sender, do not click on any links or open attachments and press ‘delete’.
“Never give money or your financial details to someone you don’t trust,” Scamwatch warns. “If you are considering donating to a charity, check their credentials first at the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) website.”