The Samaritan's Purse Disaster Relief Truck is in Taree loaded with equipment to support groups and individuals who want to do disaster recovery work at properties destroyed or damaged by fire.
Shovels, wrecking bars, hammers, pliers, mattocks, brooms, wheelbarrows, chainsaws, ladders ... the equipment manifest is extensive, and the team of people deployed with the truck are equipped with unique skills to help communities to begin the process of recovery from natural disasters.
It is parked in the grounds of OneLife Church in Muldoon Street, Taree and will be there until December 20. If community demand for its resources is strong, and no other natural disasters occur in Australia, the truck may remain on site during January.
It's been a big year for the disaster relief team, deployed to Queensland for almost three months to assist with flood recovery work in Townsville, then to Bunyip in Victoria in June for one month to assist with bush fire recovery, back to NSW for a month to support fire-affected communities in the Casino, Drake, Tenterfield and Rapville areas, and now to Taree.
Samaritan's Purse is a second responder, deploying to disaster-affected communities when emergency services have declared the area safe. It works with Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains to bring holistic care that includes practical, emotional and spiritual support.
Stewart Beveridge is the chaplain who leads the rapid response teams in Australia and New Zealand and is urging the community to visit the truck, to identify needs in the region, and to seek the support to enable individuals and groups to help people on properties impacted by bush fires.
He has been away from home and family for more than three months this year, is experienced with the challenging journey of disaster recovery, and champions the necessity of groups and individuals rallying to help people.
"We can help mobilise this community to care for each other with equipment that they normally don't have lying around, or a skillset that might not be present," Stewart said.
"We help people to take a first step in a journey of recovery. We bring in a team of volunteers and help people to clean up, to restore a bit of order, and it's overwhelming for us to watch the response of the people.
"We were at Drake a couple of weeks ago with a couple who were on this isolated little property and they had been sitting, just looking at the devastation of what the fire had done - it had destroyed everything on their property.
"They had dragged a caravan to the property to start again, but for seven weeks had sat there just looking at it, unable to take the first step.
They had dragged a caravan to the property to start again, but for seven weeks had sat there just looking at it, unable to take the first step.Chaplain Stewart Beveridge
"So we turned up and just got into it. They were cleaning, they made stacks of tin, the chainsaws were out and they cut up timber into manageable bits and pieces.
"In the ashes we were finding precious things and so there was a little area made for the precious things ... we were there for about three hours, and in those three hours the posture of the home owners changed; they went from being a bit slumped over and looking down to the ground, to having their heads up and having purpose in their statements ... that happens again, and again, and again wherever we go."
Stewart stresses that volunteers "will be very respectful in how we operate on someone's property because we know it is their life, that it is filled with memories and it is their space."
"We are guests in their world, but we are guests with a purpose, we've come to bring hope and that hope looks like recovery from these fires and the crisis.
"When we come with that sort of intent, when we come with the equipment we've got, and the capacity that we bring, when we get alongside your neighbour or a family member that you've let us know about, it's just a real privilege to be part of that journey of recovery with them."
Stewart says chaplains play a key role in supporting vulnerable people and "are there with no agenda."
"We are a Christian organisation but prefer the gospel to be spoken and lived out - word and deed in full-hearted action.
"We are there for the needs of the person in front of us, and sometimes they will just want to talk about the weather and the cattle down in the corner, or what's being done and how grateful and thankful they are; that's wonderful and we can help them to express that because gratitude is good for us.
"But sometimes we will hear stories of Mum dying six months ago, and that she was here that last time, because the reality is that crisis is all around us all the time, and some people feel like they are stumbling from one crisis to the next, that it's one thing on top of another, and the fire or the flood is just the latest in a long line of sad stories.
"We are not clinical psychologists, we are not there to do therapy. We describe ourselves as emotional and spiritual first-aiders who try to be present as soon as we can to help people to say, this hurts, or this sucks, or ask their big questions."
To learn more about the Samaritan's Purse Disaster Relief Truck and how to access its resources, visit the truck on site at OneLife Church in Muldoon Street between 8.30am and 9.30am daily, or register your interest to volunteer or to donate on the Samaritan's Purse website.
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