Aid to fire victims all year round
The Knysna fires on 7 June that left the town devastated, also led to unprecedented relief action, with many organisations joining hands to help fire victims regroup and rebuild. One such organisation has been helping fire victims from as early as 1960, when the Knysna Women’s Association was founded to help those in need; it later evolved into the Knysna Disaster Fund (KDF), whose primary purpose it is to assist local fire victims all year round.
For more than 25 years, the fund has been working quietly in the background assisting people from the townships, where fires are a frequent occurrence, and in September alone, the fund has helped 40 victims from 11 fires locally.
Massive need arose overnight
But three months earlier, in June this year, they say nothing could have prepared them for the massive need that arose literally overnight. By Monday 12 June, five days after the fires, KDF’s two small storerooms at Child Welfare in Waterfront Drive were “virtually mobbed and cleaned out”, says KDF secretary Jill Morse. It was clear that the fund’s limited resources, which covered about 50 fires annually helping around 150 affected people, were not able to cope with the exceptional demand. During the next few days, their storerooms were replenished from the incoming donations at the bedding and clothing depot at Woodmill Walk.
During the relief efforts, the fund’s members immersed themselves in the enormous task at hand, at various centres across Knysna.
‘Back-breaking’ relief efforts
“Those members not immediately dealing with the aftermath of loss of property were helping either in the town central’s sorting areas or at church-organised venues. Our chairperson Daphne Hennessey, in her mid-80s, was found at Spring Street on that Friday sorting shoes, a back-breaking task!” recalls Morse.
During the first week after the June fires, Morse took over the running of the clothing and bedding sorting depot at Woodmill Walk, says Morse. In the four weeks that the facility was running, there were daily deliveries of donations, with enormous trucks and bakkies from all over the country lining up to offload.
“There were times when there were two human chains passing bags and boxes from vehicles to the loading bay, where a constant stream of runners was taking trolley-loads of donations into the old Edgars shop for sorting,” says Morse, adding that some 60 local volunteers were helping to sift through and sort out the donated goods. Ongoing liaison with other facilities in Knysna ensured that the different relief centres could help each other with what was needed at any given time by swapping out food, toiletries, clothing, bedding etc as and when it was required.
And the tins rattled…
Back to the present, on Saturday 28 October, the fund “rattled” collection tins around the town – this is their only form of fundraising to buy mainly kitchenware but also other items that are not donated, such as toiletries.
Morse thanked generous Knysna residents for their continued support and the volunteers who helped rattle the tins. She added that this had been their best collection yet and that they had to change tins at least four times. Chairperson Daphne Hennessey adds, “People are now much more aware of the devastating effect a fire can have on the lives of fire victims, and by putting a donation in the collection you really are helping – every cent is used to provide items needed.”
The disaster fund also actively supports the victim support unit at SAPS Knysna, providing toiletry care packs and clothing for rape victims, and KDF liaises with the Rotary Annes and the voluntary coordinator from the Baptist Church to help provide items for the comfort room at Knysna
Provincial Hospital where rape and domestic abuse victims are taken.
People can also help out by giving their time, in the form of volunteering, says Hennessey. This involves being available to help fire victims for the mornings of one week in two months. “You just need to be at the end of a phone during that time,” she says. “We also meet for an hour or so monthly to catch up and discuss our work, looking at other ways we can support our community.”
* If you’d like to know more, please contact Daphne Hennessey on 044 384 0075 or Jill Morse 074 474 8368.
In the weeks following the fires, when relief centres were at their busiest, there were daily deliveries of donations, with enormous trucks and bakkies from all over the country lining up to offload.
Lois Kleyn was one of the many volunteers who rattled tins on Saturday 28 October, which proved Knysna Disaster Fund’s best collection yet.