Tonnes of goods donated to Black Saturday victims are still sitting in warehouse

Tonnes of goods donated to Black Saturday victims are still sitting in warehouse

18 December 2009

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Australia — Hundreds of thousands of items donated to bushfire survivors are still sitting in a warehouse 10 months later.

About 10,000 tonnes of goods, stacked on 3400 pallets, have not yet been distributed.

While other charities say donations are down because of the bushfires, vast amounts of clothing, toys, bedding, household goods and food are still in storage at a huge warehouse in Clayton.

The Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority admitted it was overwhelmed by public generosity after Black Saturday.

Authority chief Christine Nixon said 63,000 tonnes of material aid, with an estimated value of $17.5 million, had been donated.

Ms Nixon said the storage and distribution task had been immense.

But each week about 1000 people were receiving material aid at 36 storefront distribution points in bushfire areas.

The Herald Sun has also discovered:

RATS had gotten into some containers at the Clayton warehouse and eaten biscuits and other foodstuffs.

SOILED baby clothes and underwear that had been worn were among the thousands of donated items unsuitable for distribution.

ELECTRICAL items that required testing, out-of-date food, dirty manchester and hundreds of prams that did not comply with safety requirements were also not suitable for distribution.

AT LEAST 200 of the 3400 pallets at the warehouse had still not been sorted.

Ms Nixon said a decision on what to do with unused aid would be made after the new fire season. Some was likely to be passed on to the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul.

“We’ll assess how this was all handled and give advice to the Government for the future,” Ms Nixon said.

“But I think the most important thing for me was that people were just so generous, and cared in so many ways.

“They gave their time, they gave their goods and they gave their money, and that’s what’s the really important story.”

Ms Nixon said she doubted if donors would be upset that so much material had not yet been used or distributed.

More than 6000 referral cards issued to bushfire-affected people entitle them to material aid. There is no limit to the number of times they can attend aid storefronts, or the amount of goods they take.

The authority estimates that clothing made up 75 per cent of all donations, but about half could not be used because it was either soiled or damaged.

Marysville and Triangle Development Group president Graeme Brown said the amount of material donated was “mind-boggling”.

But Mr Brown said access to major items stored in Melbourne had been difficult for many bushfire survivors.

“We don’t want to sound ungrateful, because there’s been some brilliant stuff donated, and the generosity of Australian has been overwhelming,” he said.

“But when we needed it, after losing absolutely everything, things were still being organised – and to get down to Melbourne was just one more burden we couldn’t face.

“At that stage I could have had 50 doonas, but I couldn’t get a fridge.”

Mr Brown said there could be a second wave of bushfire victims seeking donated goods as the number of new homes being finished increased.

“People could utilise some of those donations a lot better because they’re in a better position to do so now.”

More than $388 million in cash was donated to the Bushfire Appeal Fund, set up the day after the catastrophic February fires, which killed 173 people.

Almost $360 million has been allocated to individuals, families and communities.

Payments to individuals and families will account for almost 75 per cent of the total fund. More than $225 million has already been spent on over 20,000 payments to individuals.

A quarter of the money has been set aside for community projects and $27 million has been allocated to long-term projects such as psychological support, scholarships and assistance for orphans.

An independent advisory panel of community leaders, chaired by Pat McNamara, oversees the fund’s operations and the allocation of money.

Applications for assistance under any of the fund’s 26 financial support packages close on December 31.

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