THE WILLAWARRIN Community Hall has been at the centre of the bushfire response and recovery efforts, literally from the first days.
At the peak of the blaze on November 8, the hall was under threat from the fires, with flames coming within 200 metres.
Once safe, the hall was set up by Kempsey Shire Council, in partnership with the Office of Emergency Management, as a Disaster Assistance Welfare Point and quickly became a refuge for up-river residents affected by the fires.
Like its equivalent in Bellbrook, Willawarrin's hall was a central point of information from council, somewhere to receive food, clothing and other necessities and for people to drop off donations. It has also taken on a key reference point for information about grants and financial assistance.
A resident of Willawarrin for 20 years, Maureen Reid, more commonly known as Maudie, took on the role as the coordinator of the hall during the bushfire emergency and selflessly volunteered Monday to Friday, from 8am-5pm, for six weeks.
"We had donations come in from everywhere. At one point we had six palette-loads of water delivered from Canberra and Lithgow," Maudie said.
"The support we got from everywhere was incredible. We also had a lot of local businesses help out, bringing in cooked meals and drinks."
In the weeks and months since the fire, the hall has transitioned from being a Disaster Assistance Point to a recovery centre, and Maudie said it is still important for many residents.
"We still get a few people coming in for water and information or to drop donations off," she said.
The hall will continue to be open every Wednesday from 9am-11am for the community to speak with council's bushfire recovery officers until further notice.
"The fires may be over, but the recovery will be ongoing for a while and people will keep needing support," she said.
Maudie raises money for the hall by holding a raffle at the Willawarrin Hotel each Sunday. She feels that the building is the vital heart of the community in these difficult times.
In recognition of the hall's crucial role in the community, Kempsey Shire Council is committed to working with the hall committee for future improvements of the building.
Next week, council will host a Disaster Recovery Community Planning Meeting at the Willawarrin Hall on Thursday from 5pm-6:30pm to share the latest recovery information and discuss community needs.
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