In March 2018, when we launched Orange Sky’s laundry and shower service in Townsville, I told everyone “it never rains here”. Growing up in Ingham, 100km north of Townsville, I’d been through enough wet seasons to know that ‘rain’ and ‘Townsville’ were two words that generally didn’t go together.

But what did I know? The week of the Townsville service launch, it rained the entire time and was the wettest launch event that we’d ever had.

Despite the weather, I remember being so proud that Orange Sky had finally made it to North Queensland. I was excited that the service would reach more people in need and was determined to help grow the community’s understanding around homelessness. Not even a year later, ‘Caz’, our laundry and shower van, has helped the community in ways that I could never have imagined.

We often hear stories of friends who have had a few things go wrong and find themselves living on the street or in a position where they need to access support services.

The ‘one-in-100 year’ flood disaster in Townsville has affected thousands of homes and left so many people without a roof over their head. Orange Sky has been able to mobilise three vehicles, including Caz, to help provide assistance to locals – many whom have become temporarily homeless through the recent weather event. A team of local volunteers and staff have done more than 4000kg of laundry, helping to restore just a little bit of normality to people’s lives.

We’ve heard so many heart breaking stories over the past few weeks, but also many of hope, resilience and community spirit. So many people who, in the face of complete disaster and adversity, have found a way to just keep going.

Like Crystal, a single mum and education student lost everything in the floods. She had no insurance and said she was too overwhelmed to even think about filling out paperwork to access support. After staying at an evacuation centre for the week (her 10-year-old son thought it was all a big adventure), she found a place to live and Orange Sky volunteers were able to help her move the small amount of belongings that she had left.

There’s Neilin (pictured left with volunteers), an 18-year-old who volunteered with a group of mates to help clean up homes around Townsville. He even found time to pop in to an Orange Sky shift to let us know he loved what we do. He told us he was grateful for our support to his community and was hoping to sign up as an Orange Sky volunteer after just turning 18. (What a legend!)

Chloe was on her way home to Hughenden when she became stranded in Townsville.

“We are all in the same boat and have nowhere to go and all been affected. People are here to help us because they want to be here, not because they have to.

You can only wear the same clothes so many times before they start to smell in the heat. It was amazing to clean my clothes and I was at the point where I would have to hand wash my clothes, so Orange Sky meant the world. To be able to wash and dry my clothes and have them handed back to me meant the world.”

There’s the people who entrusted us with their most valued possessions, and as volunteer Tony explained, it’s not a job that anyone takes lightly.

“A lady came up to me and asked if we could please try and wash something for her. She didn’t expect a perfect result, but they had lost everything. She was going to throw it out, but thought we might be able to help. It was her wedding dress, with a three-foot train and fresh water pearls. It was 80 to 90 percent humidity on this day and everything was growing mould. She couldn’t get it to a dry cleaner and there was no vinegar left anywhere.

A woman also asked if I could please take special care of these items, it’s all she managed to save from her daughter who passed away. I’m relieved to say it was successful!”

Then there’s the Townsville volunteers, some of whom were impacted themselves by flooding. Their amazing compassion, kindness and generosity has inspired us all.

Caz has supported the community in more ways than I could had ever expected – not just through laundry services, but by providing an opportunity for people to sit down, have a chat, and maybe – even just for a second – forget about their reality. What’s happened in Townsville is nothing short of devastating, but like always, North Queenslanders have a way of just getting on with it and supporting each other in times of need.

By Megan Groundwater

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