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A family's haven

When Steve Taylor and his wife Margaret decided to get away for a quiet week's camping they never could have imagined the turmoil that lay ahead when Margaret took ill.

Amid the chaos and shock Steve and his family were suddenly plunged into, a little-known Red Cross service in regional Queensland proved to be a haven while their world turned upside down.

Several days into their break camping on Queensland's Cooloola Coast, Margaret had a stroke and was rushed to the Nambour Hospital. While she was in Intensive Care, she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer - a complete shock to everyone. Five days later she passed away.

In the blur of those days Steve and his family stayed at the Red Cross Wellbeing Centre adjoining the hospital, where our trained volunteers did whatever they could to help the group.

The centre became an oasis of stability for the group which quickly grew to include Steve and Margaret's four adult children, their partners and two tiny grandchildren.

Red Cross operates six Wellbeing Centres around Queensland, offering affordable accommodation for people who are having treatment at large regional hospitals and their family; people who often would have nowhere else to go.

People in rural and remote communities often suffer from poorer health, reduced life expectancy and higher levels of disease and illness. The centres fill a real gap for people who can't access the medical services available in cities.

Gwen Malone, Red Cross' volunteer caretaker remembers Steve's family well. She says she and the other volunteers simply did what they could to offer support and make their stay as comfortable as possible.

Steve couldn't be more grateful. "It was all a blur, but my main impressions are of the friendliness of the centre and the assistance provided by the staff. When you realise that they are volunteers, it makes it more community focused and a powerful feeling of support for us.

Steve Taylor with his daughter Angela Cannell and her sons Spencer and Hamish, with volunteer Gwen Malone

"It's an extremely caring organisation and I think, from our perspective, they put us first and that's certainly how we felt.

"It taught me a little too because I wasn't looking after myself, I was more concerned about Margaret and to have Gwen say, 'You need to get some shoes'….it just clicked to me that I wasn't thinking about myself. So getting that sort of support was really paramount at the time.

"Everyone was very generous, helpful and had a smile for when we were feeling a bit down. Everyone was so friendly and made you feel a lot more positive at such a negative time.

It was cost effective and so easy. We had people coming in and out all the time. Poor Gwen got up at 2am one morning to get one of us a room and it felt like it wasn't any trouble at all for her to do that.

"We hear a lot about Red Cross - usually it's in the international domain. For us as individuals or as a family we never thought we'd be using Red Cross services ourselves, and it was a bit of a shock to be actually using them. For me seeing the Red Cross sign, its true value was it's there to support you."

Gwen, who's been a Red Cross volunteer for 25 years, says her work can include anything from making people a cup of tea and sitting with them while they express their grief, to helping people get clothing, shoes and food.

"We've had people rush in here after an accident and their relatives come in here with nothing. They may have been camping on just been in a car accident and they have no spare clothing, or shoes or food. We can usually help supply them.

"We have wonderful feedback. People are very grateful. They say things like they don't know what they would have done without this place."