Heartbreak behind Lions mission of mercy

He might be a reluctant hero but Need for Feed founder Graham Cockerell takes pride in the $30 million hay bail-out for struggling Aussie farmers. Tony Fawcett reports.

Graham Cockerell knows well the heartbreak that can affect Australian farming families.

As an 11-year-old, PDG Graham, founder of Lions-based Need for Feed which in 15 years has delivered $30 million worth of hay to ailing farmers, suffered the loss of his father to farm-related suicide.

The memory and sadness of that event, which forced the selling of the family farm, has never left him.

Looking back on Need for Feed’s phenomenal record in helping drought, fire and flood affected farmers, Graham confirms his father’s death was a catalyst in the project’s 2006 founding.

It was around the 40th anniversary of his father’s death that Graham got involved. “It was the middle of the Millennium Drought and in Victoria, “ he recalls, “we had drought and fires at the same time and there were media reports that three farmers per week were taking their own lives. That all came home to me and I was in a position to be able to help somebody, which I did.”

First off, he delivered a load of his own hay to bushfire-ravaged Cowwarr in Victoria’s Gippsland. “That was going to be all there was to it, but it’s the old story … when I saw the enormity of the problem I felt I had to do something,” he says. “So we rounded up those we thought could help and the starting point was my own (Pakenham) Lions Club.

Before Need for Feed’s launch, Graham was unable to even talk about his father’s suicide. “I just wasn’t able to have a conversation about it,” he admits.

He first publicly revealed details when interviewed on Need for Feed by former Melbourne ABC radio presenter Jon Faine. “I had to go home and tell my grown-up daughters about how my father, their grandfather, died – I hadn’t discussed it with anybody before. But now I’m able to talk to others about it, and we feel that what we are doing is really making a difference.”

Like so many of today’s ailing farmers, Graham says his dad’s suicide was not due to him being a bad farmer. Through no fault of his own he was simply faced with hurdles he felt he could not overcome.

“There are a lot of good farmers out there, and I suppose some bad ones too,” says Graham. “But even the good ones get caught up in events that go for way longer than expected, whether a one-in-100-year drought or the latest floods on the NSW mid-north coast.”

ON THE ROAD: In 15 years Need for Feed convoys have delivered approximately $30 million worth of hay to ailing farmers.

Although reluctantly in the Need for Feed spotlight and ever anxious to deflect praise to his colleagues, Graham takes pride in the project having donated about 5,000 truck loads of hay or 180,000-200,000 bales, the equivalent of about $30 million, in 15 years.

Often a delivery has meant the difference between a farmer walking off the land and not.

Need for Feed has few problems finding volunteers. “It is getting bigger but it’s getting easier to manage in that we’ve got more people helping,” says Graham.

“Once most people try it they enjoy it and they’re hooked and keep coming back to help.”

Two-thirds of volunteers are Victorians, yet now many are based on the NSW mid-north and central coasts with hay runs in nearly all states. Just over half the volunteers are female.

In March the operation had grown so much a specialist Lions club was formed to relieve the Pakenham club. Regular volunteers were approached to become founding members of the Lions Club of Victoria Need for Feed, and of the 30 approached 29 happily joined.

Today Need for Feed is the only fulltime rural aid group among the big five Australian farm charities run totally by volunteers.

News of its efforts has spread wide, with donations from as far away as the US and UK, with 8,000 UK pounds recently donated by young Isle of Mann farmers, to be split between Need for Feed and St Vincent de Paul for bushfire relief.

Now a registered charity with Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status, it provides corporates with a tax deduction when they donate.

Recent activities have been concentrated on NSW flood areas, with a run on average every month.

The project’s biggest run to date involved 90 trucks from Dubbo to as far as the Hunter Valley and the centre-west.

Along with hay, Need for Feed donates care packs and food hampers, including food for our canine mates (every farm has at least one dog!)

At 66, Graham, who runs a garage and spray-painting business with his partner and Need for Feed secretary Claire Johnston, acknowledges he has “probably spent too much time helping others and not enough building up a bank account” – but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Retirement, he says, will have to wait.


To volunteer/donate to Need for Feed, visit www.needforfeed.org

Story by Tony Fawcett.
Feature Image –
FARMERS’ SAVIOUR: Need for Feed founder Graham Cockerell … his farmer father’s suicide was a catalyst in a Lions life devoted to others. Picture courtesy Andy Rogers & The Weekly Times

Taree Lions donate new water tanks to locals affected by bushfires

The mid North Coast of NSW was devastated by the Summer bushfires of 2019/2020.  

Lions in affected bushfire areas immediately rolled up their sleeves and took action.  From cooking thousands of meals for emergency services workers and evacuation centres to checking on residents and providing urgent support to those in need, Lions on the ground did whatever they could to support those in need in their communities.   

But in times of crises it’s not only the clubs and volunteers in affected areas providing support. When the summer bushfires hit, Lions were out in full force right across the country shaking donation buckets and hosting sausage sizzles and fundraisers for the National Appeal. With Australia’s help, over $4 million was raised for the Australian Lions Foundation National Bushfire Appeal.  

Lions in Australia were also supported by the strength of the International Lions organisation with over US$340,000 in financial support from the Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) which mobilises quickly to support Lions Clubs in major disasters all over the world.  

The funding is helping communities recover. Taree Lions Club for example started purchasing, installing and filling water tanks for people who had lost their water sources in the bushfires. 

Lions volunteers pay annual membership fees to cover admin costs which means every dollar donated goes directly to the cause and through Lions’ large network of clubs we are able to quickly identify those who require assistance and find the best and most efficient ways of supporting those people and communities.

Need for Feed – Lions delivering for farmers in need

Need for Feed was established in 2006 in response to what was at that time the driest period on record. At that time, reportedly three farmers per week around Australia were taking their own lives and many others walking off the land, unable to cope with circumstances beyond their control.  

Lions member Graham Cockerell, had lost his own father years before to farm related suicide, and didn’t want see other farmers and their families go through the same heartbreak.  

The point is, says Graham, “My father wasn’t a bad farmer, in fact quite the opposite; He found himself in circumstances beyond his control where he could see no other way out”.   

Graham had given away one small truckload of his own hay to a group of farmers burnt out in East Gippsland. When he saw the scale of the destruction and spoke to those affected, he returned home determined to do something about it. He talked to his Lions Club, got them on board and rounded up a group of mates to get involved with the fundraising and finding more hay.  

The Need for Feed team came to the rescue during the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 and have continued on each year through fires, floods and droughts to provide fodder and raising funds to keep the trucks rolling.  

​The response to the latest drought has seen well over 1300 truckloads of fodder worth around 12 million dollars delivered to farmers totally free of charge into all of the eastern states including Tasmania and South Australia, along with more than 700 truckloads with a value of at least $6.5 million for those affected by last summer’s horrific fires. Over 90 truckloads have now been delivered to support those impacted by the current floods with more deliveries planned. 

These deliveries are usually accompanied by household hampers, personal care packs, Lions teddies and toys for the kids, and food for our best mates. Every farm has at least one dog! 

Now in its 15th. Year, Need for Feed take great pride not only in being managed 100% by Lions volunteers but also last year being adopted as a national Project of Lions Australia.  

The core group of Lions members on our committee are involved on pretty much a daily basis with over 200 regular volunteers.

Lions Disaster Relief Australia Project – supporting veterans and rebuilding communities

Lions volunteers are committed to doing what they can to help others and make a difference in the community and the organisation has a proud history of mobilising to help communities in times of crisis.  

Lions are always amongst the first to help and are still there when the smoke clears. We saw this with the recent bushfires. Volunteers on the ground were cooking meals for the fire fighters and providing food and essential items to affected residents whilst Lions clubs right across Australia immediately starting-shaking buckets and holding fundraisers for the national appeal.   

Lions Australia is proud to be partnering with Disaster Relief Australia, an organisation which unites the skills and experience of military veterans to rapidly deploy disaster relief teams in Australia and around the world.   

Disaster Relief Australia CEO Geoffrey Evans says the partnership will benefit both veterans, Lions clubs and the wider community. 

“Through Disaster Relief Australia, military veterans, emergency responders and motivated civilians can volunteer their time to assist with emergency and disaster relief operations. This not only helps communities devastated by disasters, but it also helps Australian veterans find purpose through community service,” he said.  

“Everyday Lions Clubs across Australia change lives and make the community a better place to live. Partnering with Lions Australia will provide veterans the opportunity to get involved in the incredible projects and initiatives lead by Lions clubs. It will also provide Lions clubs with skilled and experienced volunteers that can help continue and grow the wonderful work they are doing in the community,” Geoffrey added.  

Lions volunteers pay membership fees to cover admin costs which means 100% of funds donated to Lions club goes directly towards the cause.   

For more information on Disaster Relief Australia visit https://disasterreliefaus.org/ 

Australian Lions Foundation committed to helping Lions help their communities

Founded in 1980, the Australian Lions Foundation provides Lions Clubs across Australia the ability to quickly react in times of need, providing financial assistance for community projects and emergency service support to those affected by natural disasters.   

When disaster strikes, Lions volunteers are always there, as demonstrated by the organisation’s vital and ongoing support in helping rebuild communities affected by the recent fires and floods. 

Over $4.6 million has been raised in the Australian Lions Foundation National Bushfire Appeal and Australian Lions Foundation Chairman Tony Benbow OAM confirmed over $4 million has already been distributed to those in need.   

Australian Lions Foundation works closely with Lions’ grassroots network to do whatever it can to assist in making a difference in their communities.  

The efforts of Lions volunteers was recognised recently at the Lions Australia National Convention recently with a particular focus on the incredible impact Lions have and continue to make in supporting communities affected by the Summer bushfires.  

Keynote speaker Rear Admiral Lee Goddard, who heads up the Minderoo Foundation’s Fire and Flood Resilience initiative presented a cheque of $130,000 to Australian Lions Foundation to help with its ongoing bushfire recovery support.  

In addition to disaster relief Australian Lions Foundation also provides over 100 grants each year to help Lions clubs fund a range of initiatives and projects in their communities.  

Visit the Australian Lions Foundation website for more information or to make a donation.