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Glenelg blaze destroys donations


A fire that caused extensive damage to the interior of a Glenelg parish building has left two local community groups wondering how they can continue to serve the disadvantaged.

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The fire occurred in the early hours of February 7 in Murphy House which is located adjacent to Our Lady of Victories Church in High Street.

SAPOL said firefighters were able to extinguish the fire before it could spread but unfortunately it caused significant damage.

“The fire was believed to have been deliberately lit and Fire Cause Investigators attended the scene,” the SAPOL statement said.

“As a result of investigations, Western District CIB arrested a 59-year-old man of no fixed address for arson.”

Parish priest Fr John Herd said SAPOL had informed him that the man was in remand. “We pray for him and hope things work out for him,” he wrote in the parish bulletin.

Murphy House was built in 1904 and is currently used by the Glenelg parish Sewing Group and
St Vincent de Paul Society conference for storage and sorting of non-perishable food and donated items.

Glenelg Vinnies conference president Margaret Morgan said the pantry was the worst-affected area and in excess of $1000 worth of donated food and other items were destroyed.

“I can’t quantify the value of knitted beanies and crocheted rugs made by members of the community, and there were also a lot of toys left over from our Christmas Appeal that were waiting to be picked up by Circle of Friends for refugee families,” she said.

With conference members unable to take food packs to people’s homes on their regular visits, the group is looking at other ways it can help its ‘companions’.

“Vinnies has a pool of funding that we can access to help with bill relief,” Margaret said.

“We may have to work that way for a while, as well as give out Foodbank vouchers and gift vouchers for Vinnies stores.”

The gutted room where donations were stored.

The gutted room where donations were stored.

Margaret said the demand for assistance was high and she had received 22 calls in one week when she was on the visitation roster late last year.

“I packed 10 bags of food items that week, and then went and packed 10 more” she said.

“When I phone them (companions) to tell them I’m visiting, I ask if they have food for a meal that night and if they say no then I definitely make sure there’s food for them,” she said.

“I’m not sure how we’re going to address that from here on.

“There’s also people who come to the front door of the parish house asking for assistance and we try to leave parcels of food for Father to give them.”

One option for storing donations is new cupboards installed in the presbytery by Fr Herd.

The Sewing Group usually meets every Wednesday at Murphy House and it would have been its first session after the summer break on the day of the fire. Established in 1969, the group now comprises a group of five women who make more than 350 items of children’s clothing each year for distribution through Vinnies shops.

The group’s convenor, Pat Murphy, said there were three overlockers and five sewing machines in the room, and she was waiting to learn if any of them could be salvaged from the smoke and water damage.

“I had just put in an overlocker that cost me $190 to get serviced, that’s gone down the drain,” she said.

“And unfortunately we’d bought a lot of flannelette material for the winter. We don’t know what we are facing, we just know there’s a heck of a loss.”

Pat said that Vinnies CEO Evelyn O’Loughlin had offered to approach Spotlight for donations of sewing machines and fabrics if necessary.

Margaret and Pat both said they felt “sad” rather than angry.

“It’s an empty sort of feeling,” Margaret said.

“It’s just such a wanton waste because we are dealing with people (such as the accused) in these situations all the time – they need our prayers and physical assistance and we can only have compassion for them.”

Holdfast Bay Council Mayor Amanda Wilson, whose mother Anne is a member of the local Vinnies conference, contacted Fr Herd as soon as the news broke about the fire and offered to help raise funds through the council’s networks.

The Lions Club of Brighton has donated 47 Lions cakes, valued at $940, to assist in supporting Vinnies following the Murphy House fire.

Money can be donated via by putting ‘Glenelg Fire Appeal’ in the comment box.

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