Catering to community recovery

Annual Review stories Black Summer Bushfire Recovery: 11 December 2023

The 2019-20 bushfires caused immense devastation, with more than 54% of East Gippsland burnt, resulting in the loss of homes, livelihoods and infrastructure. Thousands of people were displaced, many farms and businesses lost equipment and livestock, resulting in some people losing both their homes and their jobs overnight. The community was left reeling. In the immediate aftermath, Bairnsdale Neighbourhood House (BNH) sprang into action, providing essential meals and support at Emergency Relief Centres and Community Recovery events. However, BNH was ill-equipped to meet the growing demand, relying on an inefficient setup involving a staff member’s vehicle and a mobile cool-room.

With support via FRRR through the News Corp Bushfire Fund, BNH embarked on a project to enhance their disaster response capabilities. Their original plan was to fit out a donated Ford transit van, but supplier delays caused by COVID made this impossible. Instead, they purchased a new custom built food trailer which was already in stock with another supplier. It came fitted with stainless steel benches, fridges, freezer, exhaust fans and lighting. BNH sourced hotplates and a deep fryer which were then fitted and connected by a local registered Plumber / Gas fitter. The fabulous sign writing was completed by local business.

The innovative approach considered more than just disaster recovery, with the design considering how to mobilise the trailer as a catering kitchen during other community activities. The trailer can be stationed on-site, providing sustenance to volunteers and contributing to community recovery.

“We now have a valuable resource for the community of East Gippsland that will be available in times of not only community crisis but our road to recovery over the next 10 years.”

The food trailer facilitates the distribution of essential fresh foods, meals, and catering to remote and disaster-affected areas, ensuring families and individuals receive vital support. Moreover, with the new food trailer, the donated van can continue its role in the Food Rescue program, collecting bulk food donations from local supermarkets, restaurants, and food manufacturers. These donations are then transformed into nutritious meals for individuals in crisis or provided as food hampers.

The flexibility of the food trailer and its capacity to serve the community during recovery events and planting initiatives highlight its multifaceted role in supporting the resilience of East Gippsland. Despite challenges brought about by COVID and lockdowns, the project successfully adapted to changing circumstances, ultimately enhancing BNH’s ability to respond effectively to future disasters.