It was perhaps the ultimate offer in the plethora of generous gifts volunteered by complete strangers moved by the destruction of the bushfires: Illawarra resident Bev Ashton was giving away her car.
Mrs Ashton, with her daughter, Jacinta, drove her station wagon to Springwood on Monday, handing over the keys to the chairman of deacons at the Baptist Church, Clive Dillen. Mrs Ashton’s father, Barry Miller, also made the trip so he could drive his daughter and grand-daughter back home.
When asked why, the mother of nine — including her sister’s six children — said simply: “We’ve got everything and there’s a lot of people who don’t have anything at all. And everyone needs transport, particularly if you’ve got kids.”
She said she and the children — aged five to 13 — were up early to wash the car and also raided their toy boxes “and threw a few things in the back” for whoever will benefit from her generosity.
Initially Mrs Ashton was going to give the car to Paul Hollier, whose house in Emma Parade, Winmalee, was destroyed, but when Mr Hollier saw that the car was a station wagon he thought it should instead go to a family with greater needs than him.
Mr Hollier’s young adult children, Joel and Elly, were on hand to thank Mrs Ashton for the offer and to witness the handover of keys to Mr Dillen. Joel said although they had lost their family home, “we’ve got enough for us to keep going” so were happy for someone else to get the car.
The deacon said the church was working with a number of clubs and associations in the Mountains to help bushfire victims.
“We’ve all grown up in Springwood and know everyone. We want to pick up people who aren’t getting the level of attention of others,” he said. “We’re trying to identify people in need ... and the minute someone says they need transport... well, we’ve now got it!”
The offers started coming in on the Gazette’s Facebook site on Thursday, almost as soon as news spread of the extent of the devastation. From clothes and linen to toys and pet care, they flowed thick and fast.
Many offered free accommodation in their own homes. Some volunteered caravans and owners of holiday cottages were happy to let people stay free for up to a week while trying to sort out where they would stay longer-term.
One of the biggest reactions came with an offer of formal dresses for girls whose own had been destroyed. Others topped that by offering to do free make-up and hair styling, buying them shoes or even transporting them to the dances.
Countless local shops and shopowners gave away free food, not only to those left homeless, but to the firies and other emergency personnel battling in horrendous conditions.
There were offers of puppies, yoga classes, kitchen appliances, musical instruments, tree removals and towing services.
Blue Mountains MP, Roza Sage, said: “It’s just been so amazing, the generosity of people.”
Mrs Sage also praised the work of the fire-fighters, who had come from Victoria, South Australia and the ACT as well as from NSW.
Blue Mountains Mayor, Mark Greenhill, said other councils had reached out to help. "I had a call from Mayor Paul Pisasale in Ipswich – he was the mayor that led the city through the floods and he’s offered financial and practical assistance. I also had a wonderful call from the Mayor of Penrith – he’s offered Penrith council’s resources. So has Blacktown City Council.”