WITH fire closing in on Kylie Darlow's family farm late last month, the worsening national emergency crisis really hit home.
The fire front was shifting rapidly towards Lankeys Creek, north-west of Jingellic.
For Kylie's husband Matt and his family, who run the mixed farm, it was an ever-present threat.
The property had been burnt out once before during the 1980 bushfires.
Albury-based Kylie, who is the Cafe Musette manager, put her head together with her boss and the cafe's owner Jacob Wolki.
"My family was in the direct line of fire," she explains.
"Jake and I were discussing what we could do to help out at the fire front.
"Knowing food needed to be commercially prepared, we had access to a commercial kitchen and we could rally others to help."
Knowing food needed to be commercially prepared, we had access to a commercial kitchen and we could rally others to help.KYLIE DARLOW
Early in the New Year Cafe Musette put out a call for bottled water and commercially-made food to supply volunteers in the bushfire emergency unravelling across the North East.
They donated food to the Lavington Rural Fire Service; quickly learning of the desperate need out in the field.
Initially just "filling gaps" for emergency food supplies, Jacob says the scale of the crisis soon became crystal clear.
"There were 25 volunteer firefighters from Western Australia holed up for a couple of days," he says.
"It was a war zone out there and these 25 firefighters couldn't get supplies to them.
"Kylie's husband (a volunteer firefighter himself) helped us get salad boxes through to them."
With the means to deliver food and supplies, Cafe Musette set up a roster of eateries, businesses and community groups willing to donate their time, produce and, simply, words of encouragement.
Among them were Hapi Dumpling Bar, Pinchos Andiamo, Saludos Cafe, Frankies, Wilcox Street Child Care, Wodonga Middle Years College, The Cheesecake Shop, Vice Fitness, Get Tossed Salad Bar, BBB, Inspire Health, Albury Float Room (breakfast packs) and Barlens Event Hire (free cool room supply).
Up to 3000 meals went out to feed firefighters and community volunteers on the fire front in a little less than three weeks.
Kylie says volunteers throughout the North East were overwhelmed with the generosity.
"When Matt and his mum made a delivery to the Jingellic fire shed, the volunteers were almost brought to tears," she recalls.
"They needed sandwiches and we had 1000 sandwiches in the van as well as breakfast packs and cake."
Jacob says the response from Border businesses was swift and generous beyond compare.
"Some operators just tipped the contents of their whole drinks fridge into our van!" Jacob says.
"All of these businesses wanted to help; we had the resources to get supplies to where they would make a difference.
"One of the most heart-warming things were the letters from Wilcox Street Child Care; one letter (to the firefighters) said: 'You are braver than Batman'!"
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Overall scores of Border and North East eateries rallied as the bushfire crisis gripped the region, almost oblivious to the ushering in of a New Year and decade.
Albury restaurant Canvas Eatery made huge batches of lasagne for firefighters; Wodonga's La Maison put together lunch and dinner packs for the NSW Rural Fire Service; Wodonga cafe The Secret Cup provided scores of meals; and Wodonga fine dining restaurant Miss Amelie produced pasta meals for the masses.
Wodonga cafe Platinum Brew, Arnolds Fruit Market and Albury businesses Early Bird Cafe and Yuu Sushi gave generous takings from their trade.
Borella Road Butchery donated ham, bacon and produce to Lavington Rural Fire Service.
During the emergency crisis a Canadian crew interviewed Jacob about his take on the community response.
"You feel dirty even talking about good things coming out of very bad things; so many people were suffering," he reflects.
"But I've never been immersed in this level of community spirit before."
Wodonga Local Food Network coordinator Megan Hunt says the response from the Border food sector to the crisis - on top of Albury Wodonga Regional Foodshare emergency food relief - has been extraordinary.
She says focusing on local and regional food systems will become even more important now.
"Our community supporting our local foodies, in turn is one way our community can help right at this very point in time," she says.
Ms Hunt says the network's We Eat Local campaign is a community action group supporting the local food scene.
"It is a great call to action for our community to connect with our local food producers, eateries, fresh food retailers and farmers' market, to purchase local food from our region," Ms Hunt says.
"We encourage our community to use the app as a resource to link with local food, and share their connection with local food on social media. This is all one way we can help our local community and economy, particularly at this time and as we move into recovery."
This month Albury Wodonga Farmers' Market will give stallholder fees and donations to the CFA and NSW Rural Fire Service.
Milawa winery Brown Brothers is among North East businesses that have signed up with Road Trip For Good and Empty Esky, campaigns designed to support those directly and indirectly affected by the bushfires.
While fires and smoke are still impacting areas of the Alpine National Park, Mount Buffalo and the Upper Murray, most High Country towns and villages have not been directly impacted by bushfires and most businesses remain open, including Falls Creek, Mount Hotham, Dinner Plain and Mount Buller.
The Lankeys Creek fire got to within one kilometre of the Darlows' farm. The Green Valley Talmalmo fire threatened Jingellic twice, coming within metres of the pub before it was downgraded.
For now, Cafe Musette staff are enjoying a little lull after the storm.
"We'd just been filling the gaps," says Jacob, matter-of-factly.
"But if another big fire sparked up, we'd be able to get food out there this afternoon."