FAMILIES affected by flooding in the state have been treated by the Victorian Lions Club to a free holiday as part of the Licola Flood Holiday Project, allowing them the opportunity to partake in fun activities in Licola, Sale and Seaspray.
Licola Wilderness Village has been owned by Victorian Lions Clubs for more than 50 years.
It is mainly used to provide holiday camps for disadvantaged children.
Recently, because of staff shortages caused by COVID, some camps have had to be cancelled, leaving the Licola Village empty in January, except for a few staff.
In recent months, many Victorian towns have been devastated by flooding.
Many townsfolk have been forced out of their homes with almost no possessions, while those on the land have lost crops, livestock and farm infrastructure.
They have suffered not only loss, but despair.
In Rochester, hundreds of families have left their flood-damaged homes, and many are living in sheds, caravans or motel rooms.
Most will not be able to move back into their homes for 12-18 months.
An idea was born that the vacant Licola village could be used to provide free holidays to flood-affected families, to give them an experience that they could not otherwise have, to give them some hope, and to let them know that people care about them.
The initiative happened relatively quickly.
Lions District 201V6 second vice district governor, Geoff Turnbull, said the idea was proposed a couple of weeks before Christmas.
“This looked like it would be a miserable Christmas, and then this event came along and it’s the reset (those affected) needed,” he said.
Last week, the Licola Flood Holiday Project became a reality.
Around 70 people from 18 families were transported to Licola, along with Lions volunteers, for a five-day holiday.
Families were greeted on arrival with a video message from Lions International president, Brian Sheehan, from the USA.
After dinner, there was a circus performance from Wacky Wombat Entertainment.
All families were gifted sheets, pillows, blankets, bath towels, beach towels and more, which they can take back home with them after the holiday – and a lot more too.
Tuesday, January 10 was a fun-filled day of activities in Licola, such as the flying fox, climbing wall, canoeing, the giant swing, archery and more – plus access to the swimming pool, trampolines, bike riding and many more activities.
The next day was a bus trip to the beach at Seaspray, followed by a barbecue at Sale Botanic Gardens before returning to Licola.
Thursday, January 12 was another action-packed day of activities, with a blue light disco in the evening.
Upon departure last Friday, families were presented with Kmart gift cards, and vouchers from McDonald’s and KFC, as well as ‘back to school’ backpacks (filled with school supplies), courtesy of Wangaratta and Morwell Big W.
The Seaspray General Store donated lollies and chocolates for the kids.
The families may have left Licola, but took generosity with them.
The reaction to the camp has been overwhelming, with the flood-affected families truly appreciating the experience.
“Thank you for this wonderful opportunity, we are really grateful. A break away from all this is just what we need,” one participant said.
“Thank you so much for your generosity! My kids are very excited to come on this trip,” said another.
Some participants hoped to return to Licola in the future.
There were around 40 people who wanted to attend, but for various reasons they were unable to come at this time.
As a result of this and demand from other flood-affected areas, the Lions Club are hoping to run a second holiday in March.
Mr Turnbull said the Lions Club and the Licola Wilderness Village are very happy to raise awareness for flood victims and provide relief.
“We would certainly welcome donations. Contact your nearest Lions Club and they’ll help you out,” he said.
The Lions Club thanked all those who attended and everyone else who made the project possible, including all their members; Lions Australia Council chairman, Steve Boyce; Chairman of the Australian Lions Foundation, Tony Benbow; Wacky Wombat Entertainment; Matt Joyce from Wangaratta Coachlines; Esso Australia; and the Licola Wilderness Village staff.