WORDS BY ALICIA LÜDI-SCHUTZ

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN KRÜGER


 

A selfless group of big hearted Barossans are proving the old cliché of putting “fun” into fundraising is a winner.
Volunteer run organisation, Barossa Area Fundraisers for Cancer’s mission is to “Financially assist, support, maintain and improve the quality of life for cancer patients in the area” and they’ve been doing just that for 10 years.

 

Founding members, Julie Combe, president and Tash Goldsmith, secretary still pinch themselves when they think of how much money the group has raised in the last decade, with conservative estimates suggesting a minimum of $600,000.

It was considered a brave step for the Barossa branch to break away from the nationwide fundraising group they were originally affiliated with, and although they appreciated their efforts were “for the bigger picture”, the fact only 10 percent of the money raised was returned to their local community bothered members.

“Back then, the Barossa girls were in the running for an award,” explains Julie.

“We had raised $88,000 in one year… we were the highest money raisers in regional South Australia. We thought isn’t it a shame we don’t get more of that? Why can’t we raise money for our own?”

A meeting at The Clubhouse in Tanunda set the group on a new path.

“We thought how do we go about starting up our own fundraising group? First thing was we needed to have some money so we all put in $2, there were a dozen of us on that night, so we had $24,” laughs Tash.

“Jack Ferrett came in and asked what are you girls doing? And he slaps 500 bucks on the table!

“We got a raffle license and raised $1,200 from our $524 – we thought this is great! We can do this.”

Jack was instrumental in helping the group with their constitution and has since become the group’s patron.

“He’s always been so generous. He was our inspiration to get going and when we got the constitution, Wyndham Rogers did all of that for nothing. It was all lovely!” Julie says.

The group’s first big event was a country music show at the Vine Inn featuring the Costa Brothers.

Tash admits they had no idea what they were doing but that didn’t seem to matter because they had a lot of fun in the process.

“It worked, I think we brought in about $5,000,” she says.

“We went totally overboard! We had butterflies hanging from the ceiling… one of the girls from the committee made them.”

Those brightly coloured symbols of new life now form part of the BAFFC logo which feature on two cars, driven by volunteers, which the group provide for cancer patients needing to travel to the city for treatment.

“The butterfly – it’s the start of a new beginning,” Julie says of the colourful symbol adoring the vehicles that need replacing every two years due to the sheer number of kilometres clocked up.

Today, the group number more than 25 volunteers, including two “brave” men, and are nothing short of master fundraisers.

“We are down pat with doing stuff now, we are so fine-tuned!” laughs Tash.

They’ve hosted pyjama parties, girl’s nights, giant auctions and raffles, speak to organisations and rattle tins. Julie even admits to talking four “hot guys” into taking off their shirts for the highest bidder at one event, raising an extra $600 in the process.

“Our motto is to never miss an opportunity!” she says.

>> Barossa Area Fundraisers for Cancer treasurer, Denis Tompkins is also a volunteer driver and spends many hours commuting patients to and from city appointments. “It gives me a great deal of satisfaction doing what I do,” he says of his role. As a bowel cancer survivor and someone who has had two melanomas removed, Denis is a great advocate for screenings and early detection. “I tell you what, I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

Projects BAFFC now fund include home assistance, palliative care rooms, resources at local libraries and massage therapy as well as a wig programme, prosthesis fittings and much more.

Even something as simple as cosy blankets lovingly made by local “Probus knitting ladies” gifted to palliative care patients or silk “chemo caps” for those who have lost their hair are initiatives facilitated by the group.

“The McGrath breast care nurse loves us because she says we are the only region that do what we do,” says Tash.

“We have all these people ‘on tap’,” she says of their impressive network which includes a range of service providers and volunteers who give of their time and talent.

“It’s kind of grown a little bit bigger than Ben Hur, but that’s fantastic – it’s just amazing, people are so generous.”

Further afield, BAFFC have purchased specialised equipment for hospitals where locals frequent, things like $9,000 “acuvein” devices to help nursing staff find veins for chemotherapy and blood warming machines to reduce pain during transfusions.

“There are all those little things that make a difference.”

Describing themselves as “well organised, mature, rat bags,” BAFFC is more than a fundraising group, it’s friends wanting to giving back.

“We are group of volunteers who have now become family,” says Julie.

“We are looking out for each other’s needs as well as the community’s and I think if we can be of any help to anyone who is travelling with this terrible disease, and it’s an expensive disease, there are no two ways about it; if we can financially assist and support, that’s what we’ll do.”

The duo know only too well how valuable such support can be through their personal experience.

Tash was just 31 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I didn’t have chemo or radiation therapy, but I did have my breast removed,” she says.

“For me there was that connection to the people in the group…It was more about feeling like I needed to do something. With all the terribleness of it all, it was nice to do something to make it better.

“There are times when I’m so busy I’m like gosh, I don’t have time for this! But, then there’s this little birdie on my shoulder saying you know what? This is what you need to do.”

Julie agrees, she too has dedicated her time for a heartfelt reason. Her husband, Roy passed away from lung cancer 20 years ago.

When Roy was diagnosed, there was little support available during the 12 weeks before he died.

“We just came out of the doctor’s room… we drove home and I thought what do we do now?

“Even the palliative care rooms… I used to sit there and there was nothing. There was a plastic clock on the wall, a chair and a bed. It was so stark.”

Making palliative care suites feel homely was the first project BAFFC took on and whilst there have been sad times, the group have supported each other along the way.

“I must say, I think I have repaid Roy, but now I’m moving onto helping new people. Every day we hear of someone affected by cancer,” Julie says.

A decade on, the “purple army”, with their highly recognisable uniforms, are a force to be reckoned with.

“We stand out from the crowd,” says Tash.

“We’re a fun-raising committee! Yes, we do stick to an agenda and get things done, but we definitely get side-tracked.”

Julie giggles in agreement.

“It’s taken 10 years to get here and now most of us are like the road runner – we just don’t stop!”

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