With bushfires tearing across the country, Australia is facing unprecedented upheaval. Thousands of homes have been destroyed, entire communities are now displaced, and the surviving native wildlife have been left without food and water.
As the devastation continues, people across the world, including WeWork members, are organizing and donating to help bolster relief efforts. Many are sending canned foods and homemade pouches for orphaned kangaroos to remote regions. Thousands have donated money to firefighters and their families. And soon, volunteers will start rebuilding the towns that have been flattened by the fires.
“It has been truly heartbreaking to see our beautiful country on fire,” says Erica David, community lead at WeWork 5 Martin Place in Sydney. “A lot of us feel so helpless, as we can’t help our firefighters on the frontlines, so we’re coming together to provide donations, food, clothing, and all the essentials for our fellow Australians.”
WeWork has been part of this effort, with employees and member companies working to raise money and collect supplies for affected communities. The company also launched a GoFundMe, in which we matched $3 for every dollar up to $50,000, raising more than $200,000 for immediate relief before the campaign closed last Friday.
Here are some of the ways our community has organized events and volunteer efforts during this crisis.
Housing the displaced
Since August, more than 16 million hectares of land, mostly in New South Wales and Victoria, have been burned by more than 100 fires—that’s an area of 65,000 square miles, larger than the U.S. state of Georgia. Though recent rain has helped tame conditions, dozens of fires are still burning, and the risk remains: Summer isn’t over for another month.
“For those affected, the emotional and psychological toll will extend through the next three, six, 12 months, and beyond,” says Sarah Dickson, head of communications and PR at LJ Hooker, a real estate company headquartered at WeWork 161 Castlereagh Street in Sydney.
Through the LJ Hooker Foundation, the company is raising money for the Australian Red Cross, which provides immediate relief to communities affected by disaster. Dickson and her team are also well placed to help people who’ve lost their homes in the bushfires—an estimated 2,000 homes have been destroyed.
“Real estate is all about community connection, and this spirit is shining through,” says Dickson. “Our offices across the country are working hard to help those displaced due to losing their homes in the bushfires. We’re also helping landlords who are seeking ongoing updates and assistance.”
Crafting joey pouches
The exact toll on Australia’s wildlife that the fires have had is still undetermined—researchers predict casualties to be around 1 billion. Images of animals fleeing flames, clinging to humans, and desperately entering cars have stirred disbelief around the world. “Our hearts are broken,” says David. “This is their home and it’s been taken from them.”
David and the members at WeWork 5 Martin Place are coming together on January 31 to make joey pouches for young kangaroos that have lost their mothers. Members are encouraged to bring their favorite fabrics (flannel is preferred because it’s warm and soft). Together the volunteers will cut and sew the fabric into pouches for the Animal Rescue Craft Guild.
Funding a koala hospital
Millions of hectares of eucalyptus trees—the habitat and food source for koalas—have burned, leaving the koala population in peril. An estimated 25,000 koalas were killed when an island in South Australia was engulfed in flames, and the typically antisocial animals have begun approaching humans in search of water and shelter.
“Many Australian species are suffering painful losses,” says Colby Foss, regional marketing manager at travel management company TripActions—a member company at WeWork 5 Martin Place in Sydney. “But the koala, a national icon, is particularly susceptible because they’re not as quick as other animals and they only eat eucalyptus trees.”
The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in Sydney has been working to treat injured animals, distributing drinking stations to burnt areas and beginning a wild koala breeding program. To support the hospital in this crucial work, TripActions has designed and printed koala T-shirts, which employees can order by donating $50 (or more). “We’re hoping to expand the fundraiser outside of the TripActions Sydney office, so that global employees can support the cause as well,” says Foss.
To date, TripActions has raised nearly $6,000 for the cause. And “we’re not done yet!” Foss says.
Rebuilding for the future
Providing ongoing support to affected communities is a priority for many Australians, and campaigns are already underway urging people to visit and volunteer in bushfire-ravaged communities. “One of the biggest concerns is that when the news cycle ends, those communities that have been destroyed will still need help to stand up again,” says JuliAnne Rose, regional lead of the account development team at software company Salesforce, a member company at WeWork 152 Elizabeth Street in Melbourne.
To help in the rebuilding efforts, Rose says Salesforce has increased paid time off for volunteer work, and many employees have signed up to rebuild devastated towns with the organization BlazeAid. “Not only will we be helping farmers put up fences, but our volunteers will each spend five days living in rural communities, buying food from local stores, and injecting money back into these economies,” says Rose.
Rose and her colleagues at Salesforce have also raised funds for Foodback Victoria, a food relief program. “This provides people an alternative path to helping—if they can’t afford to give money, they can still make a difference by donating what’s in their pantries,” says Rose, adding that the WeWork community team at 152 Elizabeth Street helped promote the initiative and raised $425 and more than 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of food in just 24 hours.
Life insurance company TAL, which has a team based at WeWork 64 York Street in Sydney, partnered with WeWork and other corporate sponsors to host a fundraiser on January 16. There was a trivia contest, a raffle, and food and drinks—along with a $5,000 fundraising goal that was easily surpassed. In total, attendees donated more than $7,000 and this amount has been matched by the TAL workplace giving program. All money will go to the Australian Red Cross and WIRES, a wildlife rescue organization.
Fundraising at multiple WeWork buildings
Community teams at several WeWork locations have hosted events to raise funds for firefighters and relief organizations. At WeWork 114 William Street in Melbourne, members participated in a bake sale to raise $540 for the Bendigo Bank Bushfire Appeal. “Everyone loves food, and it was a great way to raise money for such an important cause,” says Brendan Ford, the building community associate.
Across the country in Perth, the team at WeWork 152 St Georges Terrace is planning a trivia night and an auction. “We’d love to reach $2,000, and with the generosity of our community, I have no doubt that’s an achievable goal,” says Lainey York, the building community lead. “This [is a] devastating crisis, and we are determined to support those affected and thank those who are fighting so bravely.”
Caitlin Bishop is a writer for WeWork’s Ideas by We, based in New York City. Previously, she was a journalist and editor at Mamamia in Sydney, Australia, and a contributing reporter at Gotham Gazette.