In early June, severe storms hit Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges, leaving thousands of residents trapped in their homes without power. Orange Sky was proud to be involved in the recovery efforts to support people in the Dandenong community.

Ever thought about what happens when Orange Sky’s vans aren’t out on shift providing friends with free laundry and shower services?

Our Community Response Support (CRS) model caters to exactly that, providing urgent, temporary support for people impacted by natural disasters.

After hearing about the significant damage caused by the Dandenong storms in early June, we kicked into action to mobilise our CRS. With guidance from the Country Fire Association and SES Lilydale, we decided to base ourselves in the towns of Kalorama and Olinda. But before we could bring our vans in, we needed to wait almost a week for the roads to be cleared. The wild weather had caused widespread damage and debris – risky conditions which prevented emergency services from responding quickly.

Belinda Blair is an Orange Sky volunteer and HQ team member who was involved in the support efforts on the ground. She describes what the drive up the ranges was like…

“Driving up, I couldn’t believe the number of trees that had fallen and the ones that were on a tilt. And then try to imagine the sound of them swaying, creaking and then crashing - it must have been frightening.”

Belinda was just one of our incredible volunteers who gave their time to support. In less than two hours after sending our first volunteer callout, we had almost 30 people register. This meant that we could fill our first four shifts and get started the very next day. And it only grew from there. Orange Sky volunteers from across Melbourne were putting their hands up to help, so we added more shifts. Importantly, we were able to slot these into our van calendars without affecting any of our regular Melbourne shifts.

In just 11 days, Orange Sky’s Community Response Support team completed 15 x 4-hour shifts across three vans – Dasher (7 shifts), Sadie (6 shifts) and Jellyfish (2 shifts) – with 50 volunteers providing 117 loads of washing and countless more conversations. Belinda reflects on one conversation in particular: “There was a friend on the last day at our Olinda location named Craig. A tree had crashed into his house, and they were staying with friends, so he grabbed the clothes that he could from around his home. We were able to wash and dry 10 loads of laundry for him.”

With winter setting in and temperatures dropping to zero overnight, the Dandenong community was grateful for the comfort of having clean and dry clothes. “When you hand back someone’s washing and they hug it because of the warmth, and you know they are going back to their home with no power, it’s a pretty overwhelming feeling,” Belinda said.

Over two weeks, the Victoria SES recorded more than 9,500 calls for help and around 200 homes were lost. Fortunately, restoration efforts in the Dandenong Ranges were well underway at the time of our last shift on 27 June, with only 40 homes still left without power.

Having responded to other natural disasters in the past 18 months, including the East Gippsland Bushfire Recovery in February 2020, Perth Bushfires in February 2021 and Port Macquarie Region Floods in March 2021, we’ve improved our CRS processes significantly. Each scenario presents new learnings to prepare us for the next, and our goal is to build specific assets and a dedicated volunteer team for CRS so that we can deploy services quickly, without impacting our regular shifts.

Living in a country exposed to natural disasters, Orange Sky is committed to being there for our communities when these events occur. If you’d like to help us reach more communities in need, please donate today.

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