The donation mistake that could have 'disastrous' consequences

Fire stations across the country are being overwhelmed by physical donations prompting authorities to thank the public for their generosity, but warn the deluge is causing logistical problems with one official reportedly labelling it “a second disaster”.

With no end in sight to the current bushfire crisis, many Australians are looking to assuage a sense of helplessness by donating to the fire effort and give to the men and women on the frontline. However fire fighters say they are overwhelmed with donations and have urged the public to stop sending food and consumables.

On Thursday, as fire crews braced for what was rightly predicted to be a horror weekend, the Hornsby/Ku-ring-gai fire station in northern Sydney pleaded with the public to stop sending in physical donations.

“Thank you for your thoughts but please STOP the food & water donations,” it posted. “We have been overwhelmed with donations & don’t have capacity to accept them.”

A NSW fire truck packed to the brim with food donations as crews work to move them to evacuation centres. Source: Facebook
A NSW fire truck packed to the brim with food donations as crews work to move them to evacuation centres. Source: Facebook

‘Send cash not goods’

Instead of sending food and goods to fire stations, authorities are instead urging people to donate to the Red Cross bushfire appeal or directly to the NSW rural fire service.

“If you wish to contribute please donation money to Red Cross bush fire appeal,” the station said.

The post included a video of boxes of donations being stacked on top of each other at the station.

“We have so much stuff we don’t know what to do with,” the crew member filming the video says, and it’s actually taking up limited resources.

“We’re now having to dedicate firefighters to delivering this material to somewhere else ... We’re going to try and get these down to an evacuation point but it means we’re diverting our attention away from fire fighting operations to dealing with food.”

Community halls clogged with donations

On Sunday, the RFS posted a similar message telling the public its South Coast team “has been overwhelmed by generous donations form the community, however we’ve now reached capacity for donated food and goods.”

Speaking to the ABC this week, spokesperson for the NSW Office of Emergency Management, Jeremy Hillman, said the deluge of physical donations was potentially a “second disaster” and causing added stress.

“Unfortunately, what usually happens is local communities become overwhelmed very quickly with donated goods.

“Individuals think that that's the best way to help, to fill up a car or a truck or a shipping container with clothes, furniture and toys, but the reality is hundreds, if not thousands of people start to do that and then converge on these impacted areas,” he told the ABC.

He said community halls, the only place where some towns can meet, are being clogged with the donated goods.

No space to sort donations

On the weekend, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews issued a similar plea to the public as volunteers continued to be inundated with donations of food and supplies.

“I know it’s tough to watch this all unfold and feel helpless. I know a lot of people want to get stuck in and lend a hand,” he posted in a message online.

“But it's important to remember that the emergency relief effort is being run by experienced organisations – and they don't have space to sort or store donations.”

One East Gippsland community in Victoria even found themselves as the unlikely recipients of 10,000 apples, the ABC reported.

For people who want to help, the best thing you can do is support volunteer crews is by donating to the NSW RFS or Victoria’s Country Fire Authority.

“We know many people want to donate physical items such as food and clothing but these take up much needed community space,” the NSW RFS says.

“The best way is to donate money. This allows people to buy the things they need, and it supports local businesses which have also been impacted.”

You can donate to the NSW RFS here, and donate to Victoria’s CFA here.

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