The Peregian College students with their decorated Santa sacks destined for the outback.
The Peregian College students with their decorated Santa sacks destined for the outback.

How these Coast kids are giving outback families fresh hope

THEY might attend Peregian Beach College on the coast, but a group of students are learning to connect with and, more importantly, support farming families all over the outback who are battling a "soul destroying" drought.

Every fortnight a band of like-minded college students have been heading to Care Outreach in Cooolum Beach industrial estate to lend their support for those battling the big dry.

The community connection students are part of the colleges's enhanced learning opportunities school program co-ordinated by Sharon Hemmings which helps the outback support service by carrying out a variety of tasks.

And now with Christmas looming large, they have just made a special delivery of 120 old pillow cases transformed with festive cheer by the school art students into Santa sacks.

Year 7 student Toby Smith explained his reason for these volunteer general duties: "I just wanted to help the community connect. I found it all to be really fun, doing all these different tasks."

They've packeted sugar, polished shoes and done general odd jobs as well as providing their own artistic touches on the pillow cases.

Sharon said the school was excited to be involved with Care Outreach.

"We see on the news, we see the farmers (struggling), but we wanted to be of service," Sharon said.

"I was asking them this morning why do you want to do this? Why did you put your name down and all of them said 'we want to help, we want to make a difference.

"This is the first time we've done something like this and we would love to continue doing it.

"We'd like to stay connected and would even consider going outback and get some parents involved," she said.

Outreach co-founder Melissa Close said Sharon the students have "done whatever we've needed doing".

"The task that they've just done back at the college is to pretty up some pillow cases to be Santa sacks for our outback families as part of our Christmas project.

"We actually have 2300 (outback) families on our data base, we've been going nearly 26 years, the bulk of that time a lot of the families in the regions we go to have been in drought.

"This time around a lot of the families have been in their eighth year of drought.

"The phrase soul destroying is a term they're using that I've not heard them use before.

"They're very resilient, they're not looking for hand-outs. They're not after the gimme, gimme, gimme.

"You go to visit someone and they'll say 'so and so down the road, they're worse off than us, go and give it to them. But you know very well that their pantry's bare.

"We can't fix their financial situations, but we're about the personal contact and building a relationship … friendship.

Meliss said Care Outreach was not "a drop and go" organisation.

"We're about the family and ongoing visits. The Sant sacks will go to our bases and our team will fill them gifts for the families they are going to."

There are six pallets full of gifts ready to go in less than three weeks when the Christmas in the Bush gift drops start on November 23 to lift a lot of bone-weary spirits.


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