A crowd of 700-odd guests attended Bathurst’s Black Tie and Boots Ball on Saturday night at the Goldfields function centre where $150,000 was raised to establish a rural counselor in the region.
The counselor will join a growing team of staff which are engaging with drought-hit farmers to provide support, from mental health to fodder, fuel and the groceries.
This is part of a larger program being set up by the charity, Rural Aid Australia, which was established in 2015 and is running a program on a scale somewhat akin to a military operation.
Firstly, the breakdown from Saturday night’s gathering included about $90,000 from a charity auction, $50,000 from pre-sales, $10,000 contribution from the Financial Services group, and some raffle money to help get it past the $150,000 total.
“We’ve already been looking at counselors in the area, and we’ve used this as a catalyst tonight to push that over that point,” said Rural Aid chief executive officer, Charles Alder, referring to the fact they needed $150,000 just to get one counselor set up.
“We’ve got two or three candidates and we’ll interview them in the next fortnight and from there we’ll deliver them with a vehicle with the compliments of Toyota, most likely.”
He expects the new counselor should be up and running within the next month and beginning their engagement with the community and existing support and health services.
Mr Alder said when a counselor visited a farm, they came loaded with gift cards, fuel cards and information about what Rural Aid does as an organisation.
“So it’s a little bit like we’ll come out and talk to you and find out where you’re at, and exactly what you really need and we can deliver instant support on the spot,” he said.
Rural Aid currently has six counselors and Saturday night’s fundraising efforts will take the organisation’s counselor numbers to seven.
However, the black tie ball held at Bathurst, organised by TV personality Grant Denyer and his wife, Cheryl or “Chezzie”, is just a glimpse of the scale of the effort, dollars and logistics behind this program.
“... we’ve got contributions from Woolworths for two more. They’ve given us $300,000 out of their $1.5m regional allocation,” Mr Alder said.
“And QANTAS committed $3m on Friday to us. One million up front and $2m by the end of the year in QANTAS matching dollar for dollar what their frequent flyers convert from frequent flyer points to donations, but also what people donate through to QANTAS for the Buy a Bale donation page we’ve set up for QANTAS.”
“We’ve agreed with QANTAS up front that we’ll actually employ those five counselors. It’s $450,000 for a three-year contract period.
“So what we’ll do with the second $2m from QANTAS is we’ll put those five counselors in the market place now, and not wait for when the $2m comes in from QANTAS.”
This will take Rural Aid up to about 14 counselors, which will exceed the 10 the organisation expected to have in action by Christmas.
He said a number of other corporates had been in touch with Rural Aid also indicating they wanted to assist in the space of mental health.
Mr Alder estimates this could help get counselor numbers up to about 20 sometime next year.
The first counselors Rural Aid employed this year have only been on deck for about six weeks and they already had full workloads.
As an organisation, Rural Aid has targeted mental health, recognising it as every bit as crucial as the need for stock feed in these dry times.
“It’s the mental health position of people that’s most critical,” he said.
“And our counselors are coming across people at the moment who have got a litre of milk in the fridge and that’s the total food substance in the house.”
The program hasn’t had any government support, but it was also not seeking it.
“We don’t necessarily want for government to support us, because that would mean we could get used to that sort of money. We treat this as a very commercial orientated operation,” Mr Alder said.
“We look at providing value to our corporate partners, so QANTAS and Woolworths and everyone else, it’s a 50:50 joint venture between us and them.”
Not only are those organisations providing money, but they’re also providing resources.
“So Woolworths have given us complete access to 100 per cent of their fleet of trucks, so we can piggy back materials on the back of any Woolworths truck to anywhere in the country any day of the week,” he said.
“They’ve committed to IT, so they’re giving us computers, which we will then deploy into country schools for kids.
“Our gifted music program, we’re looking at probably picking up 2000 or 3000 instruments through just the Woolworths team members alone. Those will go out to bush schools.
“Once you actually get those larger corporations on board – I mean Woolworths has got 228,000 staff – there’s got to be a violin for one in every 100 staff under a bed, or in a garage, somewhere.
“There’s 2500 instruments, so what we’re now getting with the scale of corporate partnerships is, they’re happy to hand over some money, but they’re also happy to hand over their logistics and their IT and their social media knowledge and all those sorts of things.”
Mr Adler said that was just as valuable as money because it meant they could grow the relevance of the organisation, the message of the organisation, and continue to attract other corporate partners who may just supplement the whole program with cash.
Since January, Rural Aid has brought 6000 bales of hay in to NSW. A lot of this has gone to the Hunter Valley, Bathurst, Coonabarabran, Broken Hill, Lightning Ridge and loads to Cobar, Tamworth, Narrabri and a few other areas.
All this hay was coming out of Queensland.
“We actually have a long term contract with a supplier in southern NSW, and we basically exhausted his supply. There’s pretty well nothing left in NSW and hardly anything left in Victoria that’s of any quality, so that’s the challenge we’ve now got.”
ALSO MAKING NEWS: