Melissa Hall’s sons Vincent Stephens, left, and Dominic Stephens have been helping her collect and catalogue donations to the school.

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

A Puckapunyal Primary School parent has dedicated the summer holidays to collecting books and other resources to replace items lost in a fire at the school in December. 

Melissa Hall, who has two sons in grades one and three, posted to the Seymour Region Community Notice Board Facebook group asking for book, puzzle and boardgame donations in January, resulting in thousands of donations.

“It started because my son said, ‘I’m going to put some books aside for the teachers for school next year,’ and I said, ‘well why don’t we make a box and we’ll put it on the veranda,’ and it just kind of snowballed from there,” she said.

The fire, which took Country Fire Authority crews three hours to bring under control, destroyed most of the building while it was vacant on a weekend.

“We’ve completely lost our music room, our art room, our library and our specialist rooms, and another six classrooms and admin – and we’ve lost our staffroom as well. So all those resources that all those teachers have accumulated from years and years of teaching, we’ve lost all that,” defence school mentor Karen Sullivan said.

Portable classrooms have been installed as temporary facilities until the school is rebuilt.

The Department of Education arranged temporary alternative facilities for the students, with the rebuild to be funded by the State Government.

“We’re in portables and for them to be able to get it up and going – considering how late in the year the fire was – and to have something for the students to return to first day, that is quite good quality, we’re very grateful,” Ms Sullivan said. 

However, funding remains in negotiation because staff are still listing lost items.

“Every other day someone says, ‘Oh no, I had my whatever in the fire!’ The teachers and everyone are still trying to collate everything that we’ve lost and trying to determine everything that we need,” Ms Sullivan said.
She said starting from nothing had been eye-opening, because many of the staff hadn’t realised how much would be needed.

“It’s the weirdest things that you don’t think about when you lose them, like bins, little hand brushes and shovels, brooms, stepladders, hoses – it’s astonishing the stuff that, when you’re trying to get going, you haven’t realised you don’t have,” she said.

Some of the books donated to Puckapunyal Primary School.

Ms Hall’s generosity has gone beyond collecting resources; she’s also been cataloguing everything, which Ms Sullivan said had saved the teachers hours of work.

Both are grateful to not just the Seymour and Puckapunyal communities, but to people from across Victoria who have made donations. 

Ms Hall said she had received goods from across Mitchell and Macedon Ranges shires and as far as Bendigo. 

“I’ve had messages from people everywhere … it’s been fantastic to see the community pull together,” she said.

Ms Hall will continue collecting and donating to the school over the coming months, having converted her new garden shed into a pop-up library to store the books. 

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