Everything is moving. Trucks are backing up, reverse sensors beeping; men are joking together in the last rays of sunlight as they work right across a dead-end street in the semi-industrial area of Clyde in Sydney’s western suburbs.

Amar Singh, Founder of Turbans 4 Australia, handles his forklift like a racing car, swinging pallets on to a loading tray for a semi-trailer bound for Lismore tonight. Rosanna Barbero, CEO of the Addison Road Community Organisation (Addi Road), takes photos to document what is going on; Amar stops the forklift to talk with her about rising fuel costs that have slain his budget.

The answer to everything is more money and more time, but there’s not a lot of either available this week. They just need to get rolling.

Over the last few days Addi Road have been in intense dialogue with Turbans 4 Australia and Good360 Australia on how to best respond to the floods. Everyone wants to pitch in, but misdirected efforts can do as much harm as good, adding to the burden of those going through a crisis.

Ajooni and Amar of Turbans 4 Australia load a flood relief truck bound for Lismore. Addi Road CEO Rosanna Barbero in foreground. Photo Mark Mordue.

On a ZOOM conference call a few days earlier, Amar outlines how Turbans 4 Australia have been on the ground in Lismore, consulting with locals about what is most needed. They’ve established their own transport network and cleaned out two flood-trashed stores to serve as warehouse spaces able to receive deliveries and redistribute them into the community. Amar pops up a Google map of Lismore on the screen, then a larger one of regional roads that are open; talks logistics, how it will all work.

Turbans 4 Australia have also set up a mobile kitchen supplying hot meals. People don’t have homes they can live in anymore, let alone a kitchen to cook in, and electricity has been knocked out all over the place. Amar says he feels “gutted” to witness what is happening, the sluggish government and military responses to a national disaster, the rubbish left everywhere even as people try to clean things up, “and the putrid smell in the streets. It was so strong I could not sleep.” He has heard over 300 people are still unaccounted for, meaning the death toll is likely to rise steeply. It’s a traumatic time and recovery wont come easy.

Against that mess comes a community rallying together, taking care of its own problems in the absence of larger coordinated efforts. Small charities and civil society groups have been joining in, creating solutions when they are needed most: today, right now.

“We did 640 meals at our kitchen the other night,” says Ajooni of Turbans 4 Australia. “It really surprised us. We did not expect that many people to make it (through the flood waters and cut-off roads). There were a lot of families taking away lunches and dinners in the containers we had to feed their kids the next day. They just didn’t feel certain about their next decent meal.”

Alison Covington, the Managing Director of Good360 Australia, offers their administration skills and media connections to look at increased funding and managing overall finances, ensuring transparency and effectiveness so that additional awareness and monies can be generated for Turbans 4 Australia without a dollar being wasted.

Addi Road comes forward as conduit through its own donations network and rising public profile, as well as a direct supplier to Turbans for whatever goods they request. We can also appeal to our business donors and partners for added support, taking advantage of the logistical experience and supply lines we have built up running the Addi Road Food Relief Hub during the pandemic.

Amar Singh of Turbans 4 Australia directs a pallet on to a flood relief truck bound for Lismore. Photo Mark Mordue.

The Turbans 4 Australia team prepares to leave with flood relief for Lismore. Photo Mark Mordue.

Rosanna asks Amar what he needs most today. Bottled water is a very big on his list of demands. And some very specific cooking supplies for the Turbans 4 Australia kitchen. As he recites a longer list she is already texting for pallets of water and arranging for Addi Road to send trucks loaded with supplies out to Clyde where Turbans 4 Australia are based. We have barely more than 48 hours before a Friday night deadline for the Turbans’ trucks to leave.

Both Addi Road and Turbans 4 Australia connected over this kind of targeted emergency community work during the bushfires. It’s been a wild few years and one thing has led to another across the pandemic. As Rosanna rightly points out, “experience has taught us the needs are going to change week to week. We will have to listen to people and adapt as we go.” Amar nods his head. Things will move fast and it’s not easy to stay on track.

He explains that “in Sikhism we have a concept called sarbat da bhalla, which means ‘welfare to all’.” It can tend to mean within one’s own community, but Amar sees that spiritual imperative having a much wider dimension. Amar is deeply moved by how communities on the south coast that are now coming to him, to ask what that they can do after the floods up north: “They are saying to me, ‘You helped us during the fires. How can we pay it forward?’

The alliance between Turbans 4 Australia, Addi Road, and Good360 is of much the same stuff. Publicity and public appeals for donations will be helped by what Good 360’s Alison Covington says is “not one charity, but these three charities coming together”. It the same story all over. Small groups and alliances doing the heavy lifting.

So here we are. Coordinating a campaign appealing for financial assistance in partnership with Good360 and Turbans 4 Australia (as well as their social enterprise cum transport and trucking wing, Green & Gold Charity Logistics). Three small charities working together. Addi Road helping with donations, supplies and all the extra go-get we can manage wherever necessary. Good360 managing the financial and administrative structures and looking at how this support can be boosted. Turbans 4 Australia making it happen for real on the ground in Lismore, already rolling but needing some back-up, people they can trust.

What’s vital is we supply a shattered community with exactly what they are asking for – this week it means using our own resources and whatever donations we raise to buy everything from shovels and mops to buckets and cleaning materials, as well as baby formula, personal hygiene products and other urgent essentials.

By taking advantage of our size and agility as organisations, it is clear we can make a targeted and substantial impact. By the time you read this, the first trucks from Turbans 4 Australia will be unpacking their supplies in Lismore. They’ll return to Sydney and be back again next week. And the week after that. As Amar and his team put it, “Sarbat da bhalla.”

“Sarbat da bhalla” : Turbans 4 Australia. Flood Relief 2022. Photo by Mark Mordue.

THE FIRST TRUCKS to Lismore have arrived. To keep rolling, we need your financial support. Thank you for anything you can give, large or small, at this time. You can donate now here.