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Give and take: how spending with fire-impacted businesses can help communities recover

Products from Spend With Them
Photograph: Instagram/@SpendWithThem

As the world has looked on in horror at the blazes that have devastated vast swathes of the Australian landscape, an outpouring of generosity on a near-unmatched scale has sought to lessen the blow of the bushfire crisis on the communities hardest hit. Financial donations have skyrocketed at jaw-dropping speeds, with more than $100 million, from both civilians and celebs (Chris Hemsworth, Kylie Minogue, Pink and Elton John, to name a few), already pledged to the relief efforts.

Some people have been showing support by creating specially knitted or up-cycled garments for injured animals. The Rescue Collective & Animal Rescue Craft Guild call for pouches for small and medium-sized animals, joey pouches, koala mittens and bat wraps, to aid in the recovery of wildlife, has generated thousands of offerings. As it is estimated that as many as a billion creatures may have already perished during this unprecedented fire season, these hand-made gifts for Australia’s struggling fauna are making all the difference.

Donations have also come in the form of food and goods, with foodbanks and donation drop-offs inundated with toys, groceries, homewares and furniture in recent weeks. However, officials have warned that such generosity, while very much appreciated, can sometimes create additional problems as the sheer number of donations have overwhelmed some processing centres. (The best way to stay up to date on the demands of foodbanks and donation stations is to follow the relevant Foodbank and Salvation Army Facebook accounts for your area).

The mammoth volume of the donations, both physical and financial, is a good indication of the helplessness many of us are feeling at present, desperate to do whatever we can to help our fellow Aussies in their time of need. However, rather than giving, the best way to support some of the hardest-hit communities may be to take from them – by purchasing their locally-made goods.

Buy from producers and businesses in fire-impacted areas

The east coast of Australia is brimming with independent businesses that rely on the summer influx of tourists. Many of these businesses are now not only faced with the task of rebuilding but also with an almost total loss of trade as authorities advise visitors to stay away.

To address this, several online campaigns have been gaining traction, encouraging consumers from across the country and the world to support businesses from fire-ravaged areas.

Created by activist, athlete and grass-fire survivor Turia Pitt, the @spendwiththem Instagram page has gone viral since its first post on Janurary 6. The account, which had already gained more than 125,000 followers at the time of writing this, is a go-to reference for businesses where consumers can buy all manner of goods – from jewellery to gin, mushrooms to toiletries, and more – the length of Australia’s eastern seaboard.

Another online initiative is supporting service-based and small-purchase businesses. It's My Shout allows donors from anywhere in the world to 'virtually purchase' coffees, beers, haircuts, meals and the like, with the equivalent proceeds donated directly to the respective traders.

Some of Australia's most valued exports are also at risk. In December, after more than 1,100 hectares of grapevines were destroyed by fires, the Adelaide Hills Wine Region group, a collective of South Australian vineyards, made an urgent appeal for consumers to purchase wine online to support SA producers. Online wine retailer VinoMofo has also committed to donating 100 per cent of its profits from the sale of wine from selected Adelaide Hills wineries, until the end of January.

Visit recovering communities once the bushfire crisis is over

The @spendwiththem account has taken its lead from the #GoWithEmptyEskies campaign, which has been appealing for travellers to holiday in affected areas after the crisis is under control. More than just purchasing goods, the movement is asking visitors to arrive “with empty cars and low fuel”, to encourage tourists to spend with hotels, restaurants, shops and servos, as the process of recovery begins.

Many of Australia's most popular getaway destinations and tourist hot spots have also suffered after a summer cut off from the usual number of visitors. Returning to our national parks, campsites, and natural monuments once it's declared safe to do so, is another important way to show solidarity with the recovering communities as they rebuild.

Go to local fundraising events 

In addition to buying directly from bushfire-damaged businesses, spending closer to home is another way to raise much-needed dollars for relief efforts. Across Sydney, the hospitality, retail and entertainment industries have rallied, staging benefits and promising sales revenue to a range of bushfire charities. Doing your part can be as simple as buying a ticket, dining out, or cracking a cold one at one of Sydney's bushfire fundraisers.

Australia is burning. Do your part for the bushfire relief efforts by donating to the Red Cross and WIRES

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