The following story was submitted to us by Ann Wilson, who documented the incredible events that unfolded during our most recent fire emergency. We’d like to thank both Ann and Sophie for their tireless efforts on the day.
The picture above is of Sophie Leonard sitting outside the IGA in Lennox Head. She is one person who wanted to help her community after a frightening day and night of fire on Friday February 17.
At 7 am Saturday morning Sophie went to the Lennox Rural Fire Department (the small shed opposite the community centre – part of the CBD of Lennox Head) and asked how she could help. It so happened that there was a fire crew changeover and someone said to her ‘we could use a new rig’ and more immediately ‘food and water’. That person entrusted her with the red fire hat used for collecting cash donations and Sophie ventured off on her own. She set up a table outside the IGA, made a few signs requesting donations and posted the same request on social media. Her actions opened a floodgate of opportunity for a village of 8000 to become involved in supporting their volunteer fire fighters. What followed was a remarkable swell of donations of cash and food…’an overwhelming community response’ as described by one Rural Fire Service volunteer.
I went down to the village that Saturday morning in hope that there might be some way I could support the firefighters. As soon as I spotted Sophie, alone under a mountain of food, I knew I had found my place to contribute. Into the afternoon we collected donations. Food supplies were ferried to the fire station where the well-organized Rural Fire Service volunteers catered to the needs of the regional fire crews. At their changeover each crew returned exhausted from the fire front for much needed rest and nourishment.
I learned this day that emergencies bring out the best of a community and that Lennox Head has a big heart.
There were four teenage girls who ran by the donations table, in an excited frenzy and into the IGA, declaring to ‘we are making food’. On their return I learned they had made chicken sandwiches but wished to include some sweets in their donation before they delivered their gift to the fire depot. The four of them piled into a waiting car and disappeared down Ballina Street, chauffeured it appeared by an encouraging and supportive father.
A mother came to the fire station to donate two boxes of lollies. Her daughters’ birthday party had just finished and those young kids in attendance had decided to donate their lollies to the firies rather than consume them themselves.
There was the woman who asked what food supplies were needed. I encouraged her to buy water and directed her to the IGA where large bottles were less than a dollar. Despite my suggestion she enthusiastically bought coconut water, at considerable expense, because it had ‘so much more nourishment and recuperative capacity given the rehydration the firies would require’.
Moms and Dads would direct their child to present a bag of food to the table or place some money in the red hat. Despite obvious shyness the little ones beamed with such intense delight to be given this responsibility.
Two robust South African men, who just happened to be driving through town en route south, came bounding up to the donations table. They said that part of their travelling adventure was to participate in communities if and when the opportunity presented itself. Upon hearing about the fires they insisted they would go to the fire depot to offer their assistance.
It was an extraordinary honour to witness these random acts of kindness. It was a delight to witness the satisfaction in people’s faces as they did what they could to support their firies. I was humbled by witnessing the depth of gratitude and concern for what the fire fighters were doing for them and for their well being.
To Sophie a massive thanks for taking the initiative to set up an opportunity for myself and others to participate. It all started because of you that morning. I hope this is not too off colour given the circumstances, but it was your spark Sophie that lit the fire. To the community of Lennox Head thanks for your generous donations of cash, food and time. And to the firefighters…there is no thank you that is big enough. You are heroes and legends to us all.