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Real Life

Time To Say Thank You: Meet the local heroes going above and beyond to lend a helping hand

''We're community champions!''

By Brigid Auchettl
From flying pizza and beer to their friends, to starting a community pantry for those in need, when their communities were struggling these incredible Aussies found ways they could help.

I’m SEW happy we could help our community!

During the first COVID-19 outbreak, Dr Kirby White struggled to source enough disposable gowns, so she and colleague Dr Nicole Lowe decided to act.
In March 2020, they developed a gown that could be laundered and re-used, allowing them to keep seeing patients at their Bendigo clinic.
"The second COVID-19 wave really stretched resources for GPs – it was impossible for anyone to purchase disposable gowns," says Kirby, who explains one reusable gown lasts as long as 130 single-use gowns.
Nicole and Kirby solved the scrubs shortage!
"It was crucial to me to have a reusable gown – we didn't know how long the pandemic was going to last so we needed a sustainable solution."
Two weeks later, Gowns for Doctors was created. Taking to social media, Kirby, 36, shared the initiative in a local Facebook group and Bendigo radio station.
Overnight, hundreds of volunteers put up their hands to sew, donate fabric and distribute the gowns. She was blown away by the incredible response.
"We had 400 emails overnight!" Kirby says. "It's that spirit that's allowed us to achieve so much and send out so many gowns to people in need."
Months on, Gowns For Doctors still has a stockpile of gowns if medical staff are in need of them. "We are continuing to help those who need it."
The success of the initiative has now gone global, after Mattel contacted Kirby to create a Barbie doll in her image, celebrating all the healthcare heroes across the world.
"Seeing my one-of-a-kind Barbie doll for the first time was a heart skip moment. There were tears of joy… she looks just like me!"
The gowns are packed up and ready to go.
And after hand packing every order, Dr White loves seeing happy healthcare workers wearing their donated gowns.
"We've been sent photos of medical staff wearing their gowns with big smiles," she says.
"Everyone has been so appreciative, we are inundated with thank you cards. It's so nice to see."
If you'd like to sew a gown for Gowns For Doctors, email gownsfordoctors@gmail.com or to donate visit au.gofundme.com/gowns-for-doctors

Meet the flying pizza delivery man!

When the Northern Territory's strict coronavirus travel restrictions slowed passing trade to a trickle, roadhouse owner Gary Frost decided his mates shouldn't miss out on their Friday night takeaway.
Pilot Gary, 71, who runs the Dunmarra Wayside Inn, decided to bring some cheer to the remote cattle stations during lockdown and hand delivered beer, pizza and loo rolls to his isolated neighbours.
"Nobody could go anywhere, they're limited in how they get their supplies," says Gary. "I wanted to bring a few smiles to their faces."
Gary made special weekly deliveries to his community
Preparing the pizzas at the roadhouse, Gary kept the prices the same as in-house orders. Delivering the goods in a fixed-wing plane, he flew the essential items once a week, within a 100km radius from his property.
Overwhelmed by the great response, Gary admits he was just happy he could lift their spirits. "I was just doing it as a friendly gesture to try and help people out," he says. "It was nice it was so well received."

Making hospital more BEAR-able!

Queensland teenager Hayley Caplin has always used her creative talents and love for art to help with mental health challenges.
So when the 17-year-old discovered Big W's annual competition to design a teddy bear for sick children, she jumped at the chance to bring smiles to those who need it most.
Hayley is so proud that her bears came to life
Inspired by the sacrifices of frontline workers, Hayley, who has OCD and anxiety, dressed her bear in blue scrubs, a face mask and a red cape to illustrate their superhero efforts in protecting Aussies in the pandemic.
"I wanted to celebrate healthcare workers as the heroes they are," says Hayley.
"These doctors and nurses have provided comfort and help to others and a teddy bear provides that sense of comfort too."
Hayley's design was put into production and sent to children's hospitals around Australia and soon, messages of thanks came flooding in.
The bear has helped so many cope with a difficult year supplied
"People told me how much the bear means to them. Some even named their bear Hayley, which was just so sweet," she says.
"Medical staff were putting them on their wards as mascots."
Her imaginative creation has also helped Hayley. "I'm so grateful," she says, "It's really brightened my life."
Big W's Community Bear has raised more than $95,000 for children's hospitals around the country. Hayley's bear is available for $15 at bigw.com.au

Celebrating families in lockdown…from the driveway

Like many, photographer Maja Szumylo had her work halted overnight as the world went into lockdown.
So when the Gold Coast mother-of-two discovered the #drivewayproject, where families are photographed from a safe distance in their driveways, she knew she had to join in.
The photoshoots had everyone smiling Emotional Photograph/Maja
"I was thinking about ways I could do something to make people smile," says Maja.
Posting to Facebook, Maja, 39, offered free mini-shoots in an effort to create a positive outlook for the community. And soon her inbox was flooded.
Throughout lockdown she snapped eight socially distanced shoots a week, spurred on by the smiles of her subjects.
Encouraging each family to wear something unique to their story, Maja photographed firefighters, superheroes, surfers and even a bride and groom celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary.
Maja asked families to dress in a way that's special to them Emotional Photograph/Maja
"I was motivated by people's mental state… I tried to do something to connect us in times when everybody was isolated," she says.
"The families said it made them focus on the positive. Seeing people smiling and having fun made me feel better too."
Follow Maja on Instagram at @emotionalphotography and at emotional photography.com.au

The community pantry kept gave us hope!

When Danielle Watkins and her husband Nathan found themselves with a box of unwanted onions, the Tasmanian couple decided to pay it forward.
Mindful of so many families struggling to feed their loved ones during the pandemic Danielle, 32, placed the onions outside her Waverley home with a sign encouraging locals to, "take what you need, share what you can".
Now, one year on, their stall, dubbed the "The Waverley Co-op", provides thousands of locals with 500kg of fruit, vegetables, and bread each week.
"Residents and charities donate unwanted produce, and we top this up with $100 of fresh fruit and pantry staples," says Danielle, who explains that others began adding to the stall with their own donations.
"A common story we hear is that the items people take from the stall enable them to save a few extra dollars so they can afford to buy meat that week."
What started with a box of onions gave people hope thanks to Danielle and her family
For new mum Stacey Cleaver, it's been the lifeline she needed to keep food on the table for her family.
The 33-year-old went through hell in May last year when her one-year-old son Kaidan fell into a hot fire screen, badly burning his hands and forehead.
Then, her partner Zane Talbot, 31, lost his job.With Kaidan needing urgent medical care in Hobart 200km away, the doting mother spent four weeks by her son's bedside before returning home, where she was met with piles of overdue bills.
"Without the help of the Waverley Co-op we wouldn't have had food or nappies," says Stacey, who discovered the volunteer-led initiative thanks to word of mouth.
"Not being able to feed your family is the worst feeling ever, but Danielle lifted our spirits, giving us hope that there will be light at the end of our tunnel."
After undergoing several operations, skin grafts and recent hand reconstructive surgery, her son is on the road to recovery, and Stacey can't thank Danielle enough for helping her family get back on their feet.
Stacey's little boy Kaidan sustained burns to his hands and head
"The help we've received is beyond words – I will never be able to say thank you enough," says Stacey, who has secured a new job.
"I would tell Danielle, 'Words can't explain how special you are. Without your help a lot of people would be lost and struggling, you really are amazing… From the bottom of my heart thank you so much for everything you have done for my family.'"
And while Danielle is thrilled with the success of the stall, it's the relationships she's made with her neighbours, like Stacey, and her community that are most important.
"It has been a blessing to hear the stories and meet the people in our community," says Danielle, who couldn't be happier that a box of onions brought so many people together.
"The intangible atmosphere of trust, support, and connection – that's been the biggest success!"

They're saving lives, I'm saving their ears!

Jasmin Turkoz loves hearing the click-clack of her knitting needles as she crafts ear savers for frontline workers.
As avid knitter, Jasmin, who lives in Penrith, NSW, has made and distributed 200 knitted strips with buttons to hold face masks in place and stop wearers developing sores.
And the nurses, paramedics and aged care workers who receive them free of charge couldn't be more grateful.
"I love knitting for good causes, so I thought I would give it a go," says Jasmin, 39, who can whip up an ear saver in just 15 minutes!
Jasmin washes and sanitises the ear savers before sending them to frontline workers Supplied
Jasmin created the Ear Savers for Our Heroes Facebook page in July and now has 100 members who knit, sew, crochet and even 3D print ear savers to be delivered across Sydney.
And more are invited!
"Anyone who knits, sews or crochets can help," she explains. "If you can't make any but want to support us, any donations of wool, buttons or other materials are also welcome."
Happy to be able to do her bit during the pandemic, Jasmin hopes to extend her donations to even more frontline workers in the coming months.
"We're also open to support other critical workers, like police and supermarket staff," she says. "I'm making a tiny contribution to the incredibly huge job that these workers do and I just want to help in any small way I can."
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