GEORGE NEWS - In the face of a real disaster, it is human nature to extend a helping hand in whatever way we can, offering services or resources to those in need. The Knysna fires disaster was an excellent example of this, and with hundreds of homes razed to the ground, it was clear that urgent aid was needed.
The donations started arriving almost immediately - clothing, blankets, linen, cutlery, crockery, toys, food, appliances and furniture started pouring in from across the country. Approximately 30 drop-off points across the region opened their doors for the storage and sorting of items, with volunteers and organisations working around the clock.
The Eden Lions Club also stepped up to the plate as soon as the disaster occurred, and arranged for space to receive deliveries and dispatch goods to the affected areas from Sedgefield to Plettenberg Bay.
Thanks to the manager of the Outeniqua Transport Museum, Kobus Volschenk, goods were sorted within hours and many tons were dispatched.
With close communication between the Eden Lions Club, the Lions in Knysna as well as representatives from Knysna disaster management, the frequency of deliveries was carefully controlled. As storage facilities in Knysna reached capacity, some trucks en route to Knysna were diverted to the Eden Lions in George for sorting and distribution.
The influx did not stop, and very soon alternative space was sought. Within a few days of the fire, an unused cold storage warehouse at the old McCain factory became the new site for the Eden Lions disaster relief operations. This became known as Lads - Lions Assistance and Distribution Services. Right through to mid-September, trucks from all over the country continued to deliver items and sorting went ahead full steam.
Much was still being sent through to Knysna as requests came in from municipalities, private aid organisations as well as Mercy Angels who were assessing needs on the ground.
It soon became evident that far too much was being received for the Knysna fire victims alone and, once the immediate need was met, many groups started distributing items for secondary needs, such as poverty relief.
The Eden Lions Club made the decision to continue with the disaster relief project, as the goods still on hand would be essential to help in future disaster relief, general poverty relief and other community needs. Efficient systems had already been established to receive, verify and assist in requests for aid.
From left are Carl van Blerk, Dolly Subramoney, Jenny Bosch and the late Rob Haywood, hard at work.
Donations continue to come in from local residents and are delivered on a daily basis to families, individuals and organisations in need.
Controlled publicity for these projects undertaken by the Lions Club is a very important part of the functions of the club, as it informs the general public what is being done with their donations and support. Out of respect to those who receive aid, it is also important to maintain dignity and privacy, so a project such as Lads is often kept out of the public eye. However, private records of those who have already received assistance is kept by club management.
Lads under threat
Sadly, the Lads project is now in danger of closing. The current premises need to be vacated to make way for a paying tenant. The club is extremely grateful to the owners of the facility for months of donated space provided, as are all the thousands who have received assistance over the past 10 months.
With very limited time at our disposal, and having exhausted all possible alternate venues to continue the Lads facility, a final and urgent appeal is made to the George community for space or funding to move the warehouse to a more permanent location from which to operate this essential and life-changing service.
Christo Theron, Jenny Bosch, Barbara Haywood, Dolly Subramoney and Carl van Blerk sort donations in the Outeniqua Transport Museum in the days following the fire disasters.
Lads has become such an integral part of the South African community that it has also provided aid to other areas around the country that experienced disaster - whether it be sending blankets for flood relief victims or water to the Cape - as published in the International Lions Magazine.
For more information or to offer assistance, contact Carl van Blerk at email@example.com or 082 826 0731.
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