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Tragedy brings community together to support seniors

Twelve months on from a horrific crash that claimed the lives of three local aged care residents, the community of Shepparton in Victoria's north has come together to fundraise for a new bus to allow the remaining Mercy Place residents to get back out-and-about.

Angela Marchant and Laura Vagg standing beside the Mercy Place fundraising thermometer (Source: Mercy Health)
Angela Marchant and Laura Vagg standing beside the Mercy Place fundraising thermometer (Source: Mercy Health)

The fundraiser, which involved Mercy Place staff, residents, their families as well as local businesses and individuals, successfully raised the required $64,000 to cover the costs of not only the new access-friendly bus for the aged care facility, but also a trailer to assist with day trips.

Mercy Place Shepparton Lifestyle Coordinator Nicole Florance commends the community for their support in the fundraising process, saying she has been blown away by the support the residents and facility have received.

“In a close community like ours, I think tragedy is always felt more,” she explains.

“But it is a tragedy that has pulled us all together to support each other.

“The support the fundraising has received has been amazing, considering we started with a $600 resident donation back in February.”

Mercy Place Service Manager Angela Marchant also shared her thanks to all involved.

“We’re so thankful to our connected community in times like this,” she says.

“Community fundraising of this scale is a really proud moment for the home as members of the Shepparton community.”

Ms Florance says the donations for the bus really “snowballed” from the $600 that started them off.

She says there were a number of business donations and anonymous individual donations, as well as donations made by residents who took part in morning teas and other activities.

“All of a sudden, here we are, six months on with enough money to buy our bus this week,” she says.

“I had warned the residents when we started the fundraising process that it could take us a few years to get there, but, with all of the large and smaller contributions combined, we reached our target a lot sooner than expected.

“We got to watch the funds literally grow before our eyes on a giant thermometer that we had set up in the entry - it was really encouraging.”

Though the bus that was written-off in the crash was owned by the local church and hired by Mercy Place, Ms Florance says not having it around anymore brought to light the need for the facility to have their very own bus, a dream that is now a reality.

“Not having the bus made us realise how much we missed it,” Ms Florance explains.

“Over the last 12 months, our residents have not been going out as much, and those with limited mobility haven’t been able to get out at all because the bus we are grateful to be borrowing from the local RSL doesn’t allow for those with limited mobility.

“With our own bus that has lift-on access, we hope to have residents out in the community every single day.

“Being able to take residents out is important - it’s good for their mental health and quality of life - it is the only way a lot of them are able to be connected to the community.

“The people here love just going for a drive, seeing shows, or simply heading out to lunch.

“We need to engage them as much as we can and getting out and about on the bus is a huge way that we can do that… it really is something you can’t put a price on.”

87-year old resident Laura Vagg has welcomed the chance to once again become more involved in community outings after being one of the passengers injured in the crash that took away the facility’s transport.

“I think it was a great idea - really good,” she says.

“It will give us more chance of getting out more often, because at the moment our outings have been very restricted.”

As well as sharing her excitement for big day-trips on the new bus with her fellow residents, Ms Vagg also welcomes the opportunity for smaller getaways.

“Going out is great, it’s something different that’s not inside,” she says.

“I look forward to our new bus and will be putting my hand up for whatever outing is going.”

Mercy Place hope to have their new bus in-action by the end of August and are planning for their first trip to be to the Tatura Bakery, the same bakery that residents were returning from the day of the crash.

The facility is also planning to use the bus to not only take residents out, but to also bring visiting children from the local kindergarten.

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