From Christmas Gift to Disaster Recovery: the Evolution of the Why Leave Town Gift Card

Natural Disasters in Australia

Unfortunately, natural disasters in Australia aren’t a rare occurrence. Over the last decade, we’ve seen everything from devastating floods to protracted droughts, with many of these natural disasters occurring more frequently and with greater intensity. 

The National Strategy for Disaster Resilience outlines the need for a coordinated and cooperative national effort to build resilience to disasters, but we also know that engaging governments and communities takes time, effort and resources. While an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, it doesn’t really help absolve the pain of those who have lost their homes, jobs and businesses due to the impacts of a natural disaster.

When Why Leave Town formed, the community gift card was purely designed to offer a ‘shop local’ solution, where all funds loaded would remain in the same community in which they’re sold. While this hasn’t changed, we’ve seen the use of our community gift card adapt and evolve over the years.

During the last drought—particularly from 2017-2019—Why Leave Town saw a huge need to support local communities who were struggling from the deficiency in rainfall. After all, our business was founded in Narrabri in 2007, and continues to work predominantly with regional communities around Australia. 

The drought’s impact was obvious: primary producers and farmers were struggling, which then flowed on to local businesses in town. When industries are suffering, so does the community; economic activity decreases, businesses lose confidence and don’t employ local staff, and these issues continue until effectively the entire community is impacted in some way. 

Jacqui Bakewell from Upper Hunter Shire Council said 2017-2019 were some of the toughest ever years to live in the Upper Hunter. 

‘It refused to rain, and it affected everyone in the community. Not just the business owners and the farmers, but the whole town.

‘The local ‘We Live Here’ gift card became a great vehicle to help ensure funds stayed within the region. We were lucky where charities and other groups organised donations to allow 500 drought impacted households to each receive a local gift card to spend back in the area. It was a great injection of funds that not only helped those in need, but also the business community who were doing it very tough.’ 

While the drought did eventually break, it wasn’t without heavy rains for protracted periods, which ultimately led to devastating floods. Australia, as a rule, tends to take things to extremes. Some of Why Leave Town’s community gift card partners were heavily affected, including Lismore, Clarence Valley and Tweed. 

Murwillumbah-based community organisation, It Takes A Town, has since been using the Tweed Shire local gift cards to support flood-affected residents in their recovery.

Carmen Stewart from It Takes A Town said the organisation had distributed thousands of dollars’ worth of cards, from $50 to $500 in value, to meet the identified needs of impacted residents.

‘We love the cards as it means funds are going back into local businesses that were also impacted by the floods,’ Ms Stewart said.

‘As an organisation, it means we’re not seeking and processing invoices for payment.

‘Instead, we’re able to demonstrate trust by simply handing over cards to an agreed value, and leaving the purchase up to the homeowner. Trust at a time like this is so important.’

Why Leave Town has always maintained using the gift cards for relief and recovery purposes is two fold: while the gift card is donated to someone in need, the cardholder then has to spend the gift card with a business in the region—who has also experienced difficulty due to the natural disaster. 

Ashley Watt, founder and director of Why Leave Town, agrees that the cards are a useful vehicle for recovery:

‘While it was never our initial purpose, we’ve found the gift cards a great vehicle to assist those who are doing it tough. 

‘Over the years, I’ve processed big orders to assist with drought, floods, the impact of COVID-19, and even gift cards to assist those who were impacted by the mouse plague in 2021. 

‘The benefit of using a Why Leave Town gift card is that all funds loaded have to remain in that particular community. It’s a great way to help bolster the local economy and ensure the funds stay with those who need it most.’ 

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