Two Northern Rivers chefs raised over $170,000 through their Flood Relief Cook Up.

Flood Relief Cook Up
? Jess K | Flood Relief Cook Up

The Northern Rivers community answered the calls from open fire chef Pip Sumbak of Pip’s Plate and legendary ice-cream man Wal Foster of Natural Ice-cream Australia. It came together to cook and feed those who lost everything from the floods.

Byron was flooding, and there were rumours that Lismore was about to breach. Wal, Pip and their friend Josh were preparing for a pop-up dinner at Barrio Eatery & Bar when the news broke. They decided to cook a giant curry instead. The following day, while hand-delivering the 500 meals to Lismore, the duo discovered how bad the devastation was. They raced back to Byron to empty shops, petrol stations closed (due to flooding on the highway), and gathered all the food they could find before reaching out to chef and producer friends for help. A few people wanted to give cash, so they set up a Go Fund Me Page targeting $500. Within 20 minutes, they had $2,000, and within 24 hours, they had raised $20,000.

In a crisis, people need direction, and a small Go Fund Me made way for ordinary people to funnel their generosity. This small idea had turned into a full-blown operation, and the duo re-located from the kitchen at Bay Grocer in Byron Bay to the Lion’s Club at Bangalow Moller Pavilion and arranged for a refrigerated shipping container to be delivered. As a group of small business owners with a combined skill set, they set up a food hub through a message thread that grew day by day with volunteers divided into groups for transport, chefs, producers, sandwich making, and runners.

Soon, another team of volunteers at Byron’s Beach Hotel started taking care of ordering bulk goods for the restaurants since produce, food, and containers were hard to come by. While five days in, they still didn’t have phone service, wifi or fuel, and no idea which roads were drive safe – there was a lot of moving for the organization. Nearly every restaurant and chef in the Northern Rivers contributed their time and energy to the cause, including Three Blue Ducks, Bread Social, Bay Leaf, Fleet, Eltham Hotel, Paper Daisy, Frida’s Field, Barrio Eatery & Bar, The Diner Lennox, Harvest Newrybar, Salumi Australia, Lightyears and many more.

People were getting snippets of phone signals and through social media, discovering that Pip and Wal had hot meals and water ready to go and calling them direct in need of help many hadn’t eaten in days. Privately funded helicopters, boats, vans, jet skis, and community volunteer leaders got in touch and started distributing food to those stuck in the most remote areas and on the roofs of their houses.

“I’m so proud to call this place home. It’s been over two weeks since we mobilized as a community. Most of us are small business owners. Wal is an ice cream man (a very good one), and I’m an open fire chef. Without training, we found ourselves leaders of a makeshift emergency response. We called upon our mates well; they just showed up because they’re human beings with big, beautiful hearts. An upholsterer, a sustainable condom maker, a publicist, a movie producer, an artist, a plumber, a photographer, a social worker and hundreds of volunteers. As a combined force, we activated an immediate plan to feed flood victims in the absence of government food relief. Our recovery efforts will be ongoing as we now face the grim reality of increased poverty, homelessness and despair in our region. I’m confident that if this all happened again tomorrow, our community would again risk their lives to save others.” – Pip Sumbak.

Pip, Wal and the team have answered every call to try and meet every need (many of which have been completed). But it is now abundantly clear, however, that their limitations as civilians have been surpassed. They are untrained in disaster relief, and the need for professionals and federal response to this flooding, historical in our nation’s recent history, is paramount.

At the moment, with the Go Fund Me money Wal and Pip are supplying fresh food and meat from local businesses to community hubs in the Northern Rivers set up for those left homeless and displaced since the floods.

Small towns in NSW have been cut off from emergency services for over two weeks after being hit by severe landslides. Hundreds of trees and mud cover roads. Entire towns are submerged in water. Residents are trapped. They have no food, water or fuel and have resorted to using UHF radios to communicate. The heavy rain continues to fall, roads are rivers, hillsides are landslides, bridges are broken, trees are blocking paths, entire towns are flooded, homes are destroyed beyond repair, and people like you and me have lost everything. The Northern Rivers communities delivered during the flood crisis from clean-ups to meals to accommodation and emotional support. Whether it was providing shelter, joining the relief effort or even inventing tools for recovery, ordinary people have again stepped up in a natural disaster, putting the community welfare at the forefront of their work. With no formal training or support, the entire community has come together, and an army of volunteers are working around the clock.

After the initial crisis, recovery from a severe weather event takes weeks, months, and years. At this time, people who have lived through a natural disaster are most in need of support. Trauma lingers long after the clean-up is over. The community does not want to be forgotten; they have to go back to work, they need help. But with thousands displaced, more to be evacuated and authorities still wading through the wreckage, much more will need to be done in the coming days, months and years.