'We don't cry out for help until situations are horrid'
THEY are the angels of the outback, the hands of heaven reaching out to more than 2300 families facing a drought-ravaged hell.
They travel hours to deliver a cargo of food, gifts and love, spend time with farmers, their wives and children before driving body-shaking roads back home.
Jacque Blacker, of Marlee Downs in Mitchell, near Charleville, still remembers that first visit from the Sunshine Coast couple Keith and Jenny Philbrook who have been visiting the Bollon Region since 2007.
"Their wagon coming down the driveway in a cloud of dust and me thinking 'Who would be calling in at this time?
"They opened their wagon door, bulldust fell out but inside was filled from roof to floor with packages of love and Care boxes."
If Terri, Robert and Bindi Irwin are the khaki saviours of Australia's wildlife, the blue shirts and denim jeans of Care Outreach volunteers are the unsung heroes of the bush.
For the past 25 years, now across 26 regions, more than 4000 families have been given help during floods and drought through the ministry spearheaded by Coast couple Bill and Melissa Close.
"Our struggle is a struggle that many men, women and children are experiencing right now in regional and remote Queensland,'' Jacque says. "Care outreach sees our battles, provides support for so many and is our voice.''
"Our battle is putting one foot in front of the other. Care wears our shoes and walks with us. "My family, my friends and my community are trying to be tough and brave.
"As farmers, we don't cry out for help until situations are horrid… We don't tend to speak out, as I am today.
"If only Australia valued agriculture and farmers like Care does...''
Jacque's husband, Geoffrey, is a third-generation farmer trying to keep cattle alive on 80,000 acres of drought-declared land eight hours west of Coolum, where Care is based.
The nurse home-schooled her children for 11 years through Charleville Distance Education. In recent times, Jacque has spent her much of her life on the road, travelling long distances to work. A trip to the shops is a six-hour return trip.
She works a fortnight a month off the farm while during the school holidays, the family provides respite care for children in need through Roma Anglicare Southern Queensland to give full time foster carers a break.
A vehicle littered with dints shows the ravages of a road unsealed and frequented by wildlife.
"We are experiencing our eighth year without annual rainfall,'' Jacque tells Care supporters at a celebration of the charity's 25th anniversary on the weekend.
"We live in typical Mulga lands country. The Mulga lands are beautiful when it rains but horrid in drought."
"My husband is a proud farmer and he works 24/7 to support his family and provide quality beef for sale. "He is a quiet man and loves a beer at the end of the day.
"He prays for rain and good cattle prices."
For him, the pumpkins, socks and handkerchiefs from Care mean the world.
The help from Care has gone far beyond just food and gifts, as Jacque explains. "Care has given vouchers, food, and paid electricity and phone bills.
What particularly blows Jacque away, however, is the thought that goes into the gifts.
Jenny Philbrook goes to the trouble of finding out all the details down to the kids' favourite colours before assembling the gift packs.
The Philbrooks have visited them three times a year for the past 12 years, sharing cuppas, smiles and laughter, as well as their heartbreak.
Jacque says they have become family. "They saw our home at its worst and children grow into who they are now.''
"We could never say thank you enough to this wonderful couple."
The Christian charity, supported by many churches and organisations like Rotary, takes teams out west, including high school children. Each Easter, Care takes Suncoast Christian College pupils to experience the outback and help with everyday tasks.
The Nebine Community and Sporting Club was given a facelift when students, joined by handymen, helped make the clubhouse kitchen mouse proof. There was new paint, electrical equipment, a new BBQ, new lighting, while the Outdoor Movie theatre was given new posts for seating.
In two huge warehouses in Coolum's industrial estate, supported by a generous landlord, Care has an Op Shop to keep funds coming in and vast purpose-built space for everything from food to furniture.
Volunteers create everything from handmade cards with messages of support to crochet blankets and toiletry bags to remind families they are not forgotten.
Truck drivers donate their time over Christmas to take boxes of gifts and food out.
For Jacqui and her family, they know that the rains will come again, along with good prices for their cattle. In the meantime, they thank God for Care.