Since then, GIVIT has, unfortunately, needed to step in after almost a dozen more major disasters. It’s the current bushfire donation partner of the NSW government, and the Queensland government’s official partner for the distribution of charity goods during any natural disaster. In a sad indication of our climate-change-affected times, the federal government funded GIVIT to modify its website so it can manage multiple disasters at once.
It was during Cyclone Debbie in 2017, as North Queensland was being obliterated, that Wright had the sudden epiphany her donation portal could be devastating, too. “If we brought in all the free fridges and washing machines, mattresses and food they required after the cyclone, there was no way the local retailers would have survived. Nobody can compete with free! So the executive board of GIVIT agreed with me that we should only buy locally in times of disaster, or when we’re dealing with rural and remote regions.” Her initial fears that GIVIT would lose support when they started asking for cold hard cash rather than goods were thankfully unfounded. “All walks of life have donated—beautiful grandmothers, children in kindergartens, even major corporates, including a lot of mining companies.” International cash donations, like those they received after celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, Pink, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Barack Obama recommended GIVIT on their social channels following the recent bushfires, have been a godsend. Today, Wright gets almost as many thank-you letters from grateful small businesses as she does charities.
While it’s clear what recipients and even donors get out of GIVIT, Wright’s personal rewards are harder to pinpoint. Despite all the accolades, the charity’s success has come with considerable personal sacrifice for her young family. “I didn’t have funding for seven years,” she says of the large-scale passion project. “My husband is completely the father of GIVIT, for the fact that he funded me so I didn’t have to get a job while I built this up. Our office still runs on the smell of an oily rag. There are only 20 staff, not all of us full time, but we’ve got about 50 volunteers across the nation. Australians are the most generous nation in the world with our time and items and money. GIVIT has been built on millions of volunteer hours.”
Wright does sometimes stop and wonder how different her life would be had she thrown in the towel at that second website. “I’d have a few less working-mum guilt trips. I’ve been doing this for my children’s whole lives. But I believe gratitude is an antidepressant. When you go onto the website and see what other people are living through…well, let’s just say I don’t have a lot of stuff I don’t need under my stairs anymore.
“Sign up for the GIVIT newsletter,” she urges. “See if there are any items you can donate in your local area, then watch how quickly you feel connected to your community. I believe when you fill a real and urgent need, it has a profound impact on you and your own sense of wellbeing.”
After 11 years, she also has countless tear-jerking stories that fuel her passion. “For example, the children’s charity that needed closed-toe work boots. They explained that a whole family was homeless, but if we got the father a pair of work boots, he’d be able to apply for work on the roads, which would pull the whole family out of poverty.”
Then there was the young man whose partner had died during childbirth leaving him with a new baby who had breathing issues. “He [the father] was not doing well. The hospital had requested a [second-hand] mattress and cot for him, but I said no, he needs a new one. So we put a request for a cot voucher on the website. It was donated in two minutes! And the same woman donated a breathing monitor as well. That made me realise the value of telling people exactly what others in their community need.
“My least-favourite story is the request for a boxing bag in Western Australia. At first I thought that was a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’ and shouldn’t be on the site. But the charity came back and stressed it was definitely needed. Two weeks after it was donated, they wrote to me and said, ‘Thank you for donating the boxing bag to the mum. Since installing it at her house, her boys have not hit her once.’ So trust that what’s on the GIVIT website is verified and that a local person on the ground, a social worker, has requested exactly what someone needs. Then go see if you’ve got something under your stairs that can help, too!”
That grassroots philosophy has seen GIVIT draw friends in high places. In January, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was so impressed she made a personal donation. “She [told us] she’d been devastated by what she watched happening to Australians in the fire-impacted communities and she liked that [we were] a practical way to support the needs of residents. Her donation bought 18 back-to-school packs for kids affected by fire in Ebor, NSW. She also bought fencing material for families who had fires through their properties, plus filled tanks full of water where there was no drinkable water,” Wright says.
“That’s the fantastic thing about GIVIT: there is now a real, tangible way you can actually help people who have been affected by disaster. When I started, my dream was to alleviate the effects of poverty. Now what floats my boat is the idea of making a massive difference to one person, today. That could be to my child, or my husband, or someone I’ll never meet.”