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Salvos provide hope in darkest times

24 March 2015

Salvos provide hope in darkest times

In retirement, they had planned to leave their church – Camberwell Corps – in the leafy suburbs of Melbourne to travel Australia in their motorhome.

However, through what they describe as a series of “extraordinary circumstances”, Captains David and Meryl Cook instead felt drawn to Casino in north-east NSW, where they took over leadership of the local Salvos church.

Mid-last year, six months into their new appointment, the Cooks received a call from The Salvation Army’s rural chaplains, Majors Peter and Jean Ridley. Peter was too unwell at the time to travel extensively, but had been getting disturbing reports of farmers in nearby drought-declared Kyogle who were suicidal.

David visited a number of the farmers and was shocked by what he discovered.

“There were some really serious emotional and psychological issues that the farmers were confronted with, brought on by their inability to run the farms properly because there was just no water and they were unable to grow the pasture,” he says. “The animals were really suffering too. Many of the cattle were little more than skin and bones.

“My heart ached ... the farmers really did need some material support – serious material support.”

The Salvation Army responded quickly, giving the Cooks cash cards to distribute, each providing around $1500 of help per family.

“I think the important difference it made at that point was that we were able to demonstrate that other Australians and The Salvation Army cared for these people and could provide them with some material assistance at that crucial time,” says David.

“It gave families not only some relief to buy food, or other desperately needed basics, but also a glimmer of hope. I know from first-hand experience it has saved lives.

“People had been ending their lives, or thinking about ending their lives. So many people are affected and to actually reach that point of ending it all is a mind-numbingly sad level of desperation.”

The Ridleys then organised a “fodder drop” of hay sourced through a long-term friend, Trish Greenham, who had many contacts through her work at Bush Church Aid.

After the first fodder drop, David was standing in the paddock of farmer Wayne Dodge, who had offered his property as a distribution point, when Trish rang to say she could get another truckload of hay.

With no funding available, David says he took a deep breath and said “yes”, and Casino Salvation Army committed to raising the funds to pay for the load.

The new load of hay was again distributed from Wayne’s farm. As people came to collect the large round bales, the Cooks also gave out food hampers provided by The Salvation Army and Bush Church Aid.

“It was amazing, absolutely amazing,” says David. “They loaded the hay and as they were going out we would say to them, “we have a couple of other parcels for you”. We would hand them a big box of grocery items and a box of vegetables and get their names for a follow-up visit.

“There were tears, or some of them would just sit in stunned silence.”

By Naomi Singlehurst

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Hope where it's needed most