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Optometrist’s scheme continues to support devastated bushfire town

A Queensland optometry couple who initiated a scheme to adopt a bushfire-affected community say the cause is now supporting more than two dozen people, with many still living in tents and temporary accommodation eight months on.

Richard and Gwen Watt, who own and operate Richard Watt Optometrist in Hervey Bay, launched the Hervey Bay Adopt Fire Affected Families (HBAFAF) project in January. The initiative provides $100 monthly payments to 25 people across 14 families in the New South Wales South Coast community of Conjola, which lost 89 homes last summer.

They regular payments are designed to top up government handouts until mid-2021 and provide relief to people whose lives were upended in the disaster.

Mrs Gwen Watt said Conjola residents supported by the HBAFAF project were grateful. Many are yet to get their lives back on track.

“They are very overwhelmed and appreciative – it makes a difference in their lives. Having money they don’t need to get approved and which they know is going to be there is a great help because they’re still jumping through hoops to get their homes rebuilt,” she said.

“It’s got to the state now where we need to help more people if we can. There are people who are still homeless and living in tents, while others who were lucky enough to get temporary accommodation at the time, now face losing that. There’s nothing for them to move into. They’ve got no help, so the need certainly hasn’t diminished.”

The Watts kicked off the project earlier this year by pledging 1% of their business’ monthly gross income for 18 months. Since then around 50 Hervey Bay residents have joined the cause with regular contributions.

The money, which totals around $2500 per month, is deposited into a local Rotary club account before all proceeds are distributed to the recipients each month.

The Watts say they have been hearted by the Hervey Bay community’s response, despite the economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19.

“We have a donation tin on our front counter and just last week someone put $600 in there anonymously. You think wow, we didn’t even see who did that, so people are being supportive and there’s a great community spirit around it.”

A video explaining the project can be found here, and more information is available on the Richard Watt Optometrist Facebook page.

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Adopt a family: Optometrist launches bushfire initiative