Kids, schools inspired to give back to drought-hit farmers
"PLEASE help us" ends a heartbreaking plea from a young girl in drought-stricken regional NSW who just wants to buy her overworked mum a box of chocolates.
Her moving message came in one of the hundreds of letters that poured in this week in response to The Daily Telegraph's Adopt a Farmer campaign.
With 99.5 per cent of NSW currently drought declared, children from parched farms and towns across the state described the devastating impact the worst drought in living memory was having on their lives for the chance to win one of 20 $1000 IGA gift cards for their family.
At the same time, city kids answered their cry for help with a wave of compassionate letters and pictures thanking farmers for their work.
And hundreds of schools around NSW, Victoria and Queensland participated in a gold coin fundraising mufti day on Wednesday as part of Adopt a Farmer.
Among the letter writers was Tullibigeal Central School student Lilly Bell who wrote to The Daily Telegraph asking for help so she could afford to thank her hardworking mum.
"If we only had a little bit more food and water I might actually be a bit happier, we can't afford what we need," Lilly wrote.
"And the crops aren't growing so we have no food for animals when they die then we have no money and then when we have no money so we can't buy food or water and it goes on and on.
"Also my mum has (to) work and she doesn't play with me as much as she used to. All I want is to buy mum a box of chocolates to show my appreciation."
Wyee Public School students sent dozens of brightly coloured and illustrated letters to farmers in the bush.
"We believe you will make it," said Kai. "Hope for the best and I hope you find a four leaf clover."
Classmate Taiha said she hoped farmers would feel better after getting the letters.
"Thank you for all you have done for us, don't give up, keep going," she said.
Another student Lachlan said without farmers no one would have "breakfast and ice cream".
"If you feel lonely think that you have a lot of people are with you to make you happy," he said.
The Daily Telegraph delivered some of the letters to the Watson family who grow crops on their 4,000 hectare property between Parkes and Forbes.
Farmer Bruce Watson said primary producers across central and western NSW were doing it "very tough" and appreciated the growing awareness in cities about the conditions.
"Thank you for all your support, your prayers and wishes and hopefully it rains soon," he said.
Other students wrote apologising for what has happened in the bush.
"I cannot think of the tough three and bit years you have gone through," one student said. Another wrote: "I hope you receive this letter in good health and pray that the drought ends quickly."
With our charity partner Rural Aid, the Telegraph aims to raise $800,000 to deliver $100 prepaid Visa cards to the 8,000 struggling farmers.
Members of the Student Representative Council at Bankstown West Public School revealed they raised $460 for Adopt a Farmer day.
They wrote that they hoped the money would "make a difference in a small way".
"We really wanted to raise money for our farmers to pay for hay, food, water and other important resources for the animals and their families," the letter said.
"We are so lucky we get fresh milk, meat, chicken (and) eggs from our wonderful farmers and we wanted to give back."
Students at Kootingal Public School between Tamworth and Armidale also participated in the mufti day, despite many themselves being directly impacted by the drought.
"The students acutely aware of the drought … many people in our school community work in trades that are reliant on the agricultural industry," principal Cara Cracknell said.
"We participated because this is an easy way for the kids to show their appreciation and help farmers."
NAB and AGL have already contributed a total of $220,000 toward the fundraising goal.
AGL's chief executive Brett Redman congratulated all of the children who took part in the fundraiser.
NAB chief customer officer, Business & Private Banking, Anthony Healy said the bank's employees were also supporting a special donation day for Adopt a Farmer on Friday.
Rural Aid chief executive Charles Alder said the fundraising day had been a great success, with many schools planning to do more in the coming month.
"Teachers and principals I've spoken to are really excited … it is a great way for kids to engage with farmers and learn about farming," he said.
CITY KIDS ROLL UP SLEEVES FOR THEIR COUNTRY COUSINS
City kids fundraising to support farming families in the bush are setting a "fantastic example" for everyone else to follow, according to Deputy Premier John Barilaro.
Mr Barilaro visited students at Willoughby Girls' High School on Wednesday who were participating in a gold coin fundraiser mufti day as part of The Daily Telegraph's Adopt a Farmer campaign.
The NSW Nationals leader said it was "incredible" to see students offering their assistance to the state's regional communities when they needed it most.
"What I see here today is truly an act of compassion," he said.
"It will mean so much to families in rural and remote areas to know that their city neighbours understand conditions are incredibly dough and that they want to help."
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, who lives in Gunnedah in the north west of the state, said she had seen the "knock on impact" of the drought in her own region.
"It's fantastic to see students so engaged with what's happening in our country towns at the moment, and I know farmers will be extremely grateful for this support," Ms Mitchell said.
"As farmers across the state prepare themselves for another cripplingly dry winter, initiatives like what we see here … will encourage them to keep persisting through these tough times."
Officially, 99.5% of NSW is experiencing drought conditions.
COOKING UP A TOP FRIENDSHIP
Kids living in coastal NSW couldn't be geographically further away from the struggles of their peers in the bush but some heartfelt letters have become the start of a beautiful friendship.
Students from St Therese Catholic Primary School in Wollongong have written to Tottenham Central School after learning about their fundraising cookbook through The Daily Telegraph's Adopt a Farmer campaign.
St Therese's Allegra Cardamone said she thought the Tottenham cookbook was "lovely".
"I'm here supporting you. I have seen videos of the drought and I can't believe what's going on," Allegra wro te to Tottenham students as part of Adopt a Farmer day at her school.
"I'm extremely sorry for you and I hope the money and support will help you to get some crops, grass and rain."
Her fellow student Edie Tunbridge said she hoped the kids at Tottenham were okay.
"We have done many fundraisers at school for the drought. I truly don't like droughts," she said.
Tottenham Central School principal Amanda Thorpe said she was happy to receive the letters from the St Therese students and would reply to them.
The school received a flood of orders for their fundraising 'The Best Cookbook Ever - Probably' after The Daily Telegraph highlighted the students' work last week.
NSW PEOPLE ALWAYS DIG DEEP TO HELP THOSE IN NEED
We have always known readers of The Daily Telegraph have big hearts and are a generous bunch.
So it was hardly surprising to witness the flood of support readers have sent to our farming families in response to The Telegraph's Adopt a Farmer campaign.
We thank you and we owe a special gratitude to the children who arrived at school in mufti or dressed as farmers yesterday and donated a gold coin. They wrote letters telling farmers they had their backs and would give whatever help they could.
The campaign, supported by NAB, AGL, Qantas and IGA will mean thousands of farmers in the worst drought affected areas will be sent $100 on Visa cards to give them a small reprieve. The first will arrive with farmers on a Murrurundi property south of Tamworth today.
The day to adopt a farmer through a school mufti day is now over but The Telegraph's commitment to our readers in the bush can only grow. We owe that to kids like Lilly Bell from Tullibigeal Central School in the state's central west who wrote to us about how money for food and water was running out and signed it 'PLEASE help us.'
- Ben English, Editor of The Daily Telegraph