“In a week, it won’t be considered news, but it will take us years to rebuild,” Kym Strow, owner of Flock Espresso and Eats, a popular cafe in Lismore, NSW, that was badly damaged by the flood, told Inside Retail.
Strow lost her cafe once before, in the 2017 flood, so she is familiar with the need for immediate support in the aftermath of a natural disaster – food, water, and shelter – as well as the long-term process of replacing a lifetime of possessions.
But she urged those who want to help to donate money, rather than physical goods.
“At this stage, people need money to buy their own clothes, buy their kids uniforms, buy a mattress. I know asking for money is considered distasteful, but the reality is that’s what people need,” she said.
Another way people can help is by following small businesses that have been affected by the floods on social media, and liking and sharing their posts, she said. This will ensure any appeals for support reach as wide an audience as possible.
“If you have anything to give, please do. Please follow Lismore and other towns that have been affected and share their platforms,” Strow said.
“Don’t send rubbish”
Sandradee Makejev, founder and CEO of online women’s fashion brand St Frock, grew up in Casino, NSW, about 30km west of Lismore, and still has friends and family in the area.
When she learned that several people who work for her mum were trying to wash the mud off the clothes they had managed to salvage from their homes, she knew she needed to help.
“I started emailing them $300 St Frock vouchers. I personally bought them Woolies vouchers and PAY ID-ed them cash,” Makejev told Inside Retail.
She rallied other brands, such as Triumph, Chantelle, and Beginning Boutique, to donate vouchers, and is urging other businesses that want to help to do the same.
“Men and women of all ages and sizes don’t have clothes. Even if you only have one voucher to donate, you’ll make someone’s day. There are thousands of homes that have been lost,” she said.
Noting that online delivery may not be possible for some time due to road conditions, Makejev is also making “feel-good boxes” filled with new bedding, towels, clothes, kids’ toys, and other items, which she plans to drop off in the coming days.
Any brands that want to donate vouchers or products should get in touch, she said.
Just don’t send rubbish, she warned: “Send functional things that people need to rebuild their lives.”
E-commerce community steps up
Similarly, Brisbane-based online homewares brand, The Somewhere Co, is packing up cooler bags with food, water, and personal care items and delivering them to people in Murwillumbah, NSW, where a staff member’s family recently lost their home.
“The Co in our name signifies community,” Kate Sommerville, marketing manager at The Somewhere Co, told Inside Retail.
“When our community is in need, we dig deep and do what we need to.”
Also based in Brisbane, sexual wellness company Lovehoney is gathering pallets of water and blankets and using its warehouse as a staging area for other businesses and brands to send donations.
So far, the online retailer has received essential items from medical marketplace Frontliners, sustainable healthcare brand Patch, and workwear brand Trademutt.
Lovehoney’s Australasian director Rob Godwin is urging other retailers to get in touch if they want to send donations. He plans to hire vans to drive the supplies to northern NSW by the end of the week.
“The government response has been poor. It’s a good thing the e-commerce community is stepping up,” Godwin told Inside Retail.
In addition, Lovehoney is supporting staff members whose homes have been damaged with extra days of paid leave and access to alternative accommodation, and encouraging them to use the Employee Assistance Program if they need it.
“As an employer, that’s the minimum you should be doing,” he said.
“Worst we’ve ever seen”
Byron Bay-based fashion brand Afends has also stepped up with direct donations of clothes, food, water, and even physical labour.
“The floods that have ravaged the Northern Rivers have been the worst we have ever seen in the area. We immediately wanted to contribute in any way we could, so we set up a flood relief tent in our [head office] carpark and over two days, donated two pallets of clothing,” Afends co-founders Declan Wise and Jonathan Salfield told Inside Retail in an email.
“For anyone who was unable to make it to the tent, we encouraged the public to come and collect items to take to evacuation centres, and our staff packed up boxes of clothing and delivered them to houses in affected areas.”
The brand has also donated food, water, and cleaning products, and even joined forces with other local companies to help clear out people’s homes.
“We closed our Brunswick Heads retail store for the week, and our Byron Bay store had barely any foot traffic, so we used the opportunity to allow staff to assist however they wished,” the co-founders said.
“It is heartbreaking to see the Northern Rivers in such a tragedy, but it has been so warming to see the community and local businesses come together to clean the mess and mud and to help one another. This won’t be over in a week, it will take years to rebuild the area.”
Major retailers accept donations
Meanwhile, major retailers are doing their part to support flood-affected communities by enabling customers to make charity donations in-store and online.
Officeworks has teamed up with online donation platform Givit to offer customers the opportunity to make donations to support schools and families in Qld and NSW from 4-11 March.
Endeavour Group, the parent company of Dan Murphy’s and BWS, has also partnered with Givit, and as of 9 March, it had raised $190,000 to help communities impacted by the floods.
“We are conscious that the crisis is evolving and we are monitoring the situation to ensure we continue to support those impacted in the weeks and months ahead,” a spokesperson for Endeavour Group told Inside Retail.
Australia Post is accepting donations in participating post offices and online, with all funds raised going to the Australian Red Cross in Qld and NSW Floods Appeal.
Coles is accepting donations in-store until 15 March, and has pledged to match them dollar-for-dollar up to $1 million. All funds raised will go to the Australian Red Cross in Qld and NSW Floods Appeal.
Woolworths Supermarket and Metro customers can round their transaction up to the next dollar, with the difference going to The Salvation Army, Woolworths Group’s longstanding natural disaster relief partner.
Over the last 12 months, Woolworths Group, in partnership with its customers, has provided almost $4 million to The Salvation Army, Foodbank, Rural Aid, and Lifeline, via the S.T.A.N.D. (Support Through Australian Natural Disasters) program.