For many families and individuals, Christmas can be a difficult time of year.

But this Christmas is a little different; after the Black Summer East Gippsland bushfires, and now COVID-19, we know our community will be in far greater need for services and support compared to recent years.

With the ongoing impact of both the bushfires and COVID-19, many are now living in very vulnerable situations. People have lost their livelihoods, their homes and their loved ones.

Family conflict has increased and intensified; those living on their own have experienced crushing loneliness and isolation; and families and individuals have been left wondering where their next meal will come from.

'Families are really struggling, we’re seeing so many people coming to us in search of help,' says Netty Horton, CatholicCare Chief Executive Officer. 'Our heart goes out to them, and we are doing all we can to give them the support they need to get through this difficult time.'

Over the last 10 months CatholicCare has experienced a significant surge in requests for assistance. They have supported over 5,500 individuals with counselling and financial aid, as well as almost 700 refugees.

This year marks CatholicCare’s 85th year of providing support to the most vulnerable in our community.

Rebecca’s story

Rebecca is one of the thousands of clients CatholicCare have supported this year, and one of the many who were impacted by the Black Summer bushfires.

While Rebecca and her family survived the bushfires, the smoke and ash ruined everything in their home, from furniture to clothing, and other beloved items.

'We could see fire on the two sides of the house. The fire was up on the back road behind us and up on the side road over the hill. We were lucky it didn’t go past the house behind us,' says Rebecca. 'But we were one of the lucky ones. People lost their lives and so many lost their homes during the fires.'

When Summer came to an end and the fires had stopped, there was hope that life would start to return to normal – instead, things took a turn for the worst.

Rebecca’s partner of 10 years, Jemahl, suddenly became very sick. In June, he collapsed and passed away in Rebecca’s arms.

'I’ve lost four people that I love dearly this year, including Jemahl. It’s been quite hard, not being able to go to church and not being able to speak to him,' says Rebecca.

Dealing with this immense grief, struggling to make ends meet, and trying to keep everything together for her children became too much for Rebecca. She fell into a deep depression and didn’t know who to turn to, until her son’s school principal put her in touch with one of CatholicCare’s Bushfire Community Recovery Service counsellors, Thérèse.

Thérèse supports Rebecca and others like her to help them cope with the grief and trauma they have experienced, and to provide them with the skills to build resilience and coping mechanisms to get their lives back on track.

'I’m starting to look forward, before I just got to the point I didn’t care. With the support, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. I just don’t feel like I’m going to fall in a heap again,' says Rebecca.

CatholicCare Giving Tree Appeal

This year CatholicCare has launched the Giving Tree Appeal to deliver food hampers to 500 families and individuals in need with the support of their grocery partner La Manna Supermarket. Additional support from the appeal will go towards the provision of subsidised and much needed services like counselling during this difficult time.

The Giving Tree Appeal is a virtual twist on the traditional giving tree activity. Rather than choosing a gift tag off the Christmas tree and buying a present; CatholicCare is asking supporters to help them trim their virtual Christmas Tree by donating a Giving Tree bauble or gifting a bauble in a loved one’s name as a Christmas present.

CatholicCare has six baubles you can choose from to help decorate their Christmas Tree. Each bauble is linked to a type of hamper or service CatholicCare provides to families and individuals in need. Every gift, great or small to the Giving Tree Appeal, will make a difference this Christmas to a struggling family or individual living in Victoria.

Learn more about how you can contribute to the Giving Tree Appeal.