John Appleby

While John Appleby, a Coles regional manager in NSW, was supporting hundreds of team members across multiple stores, his own family was being evacuated from their Batemans Bay home. At the height of the bushfire disaster, Batemans Bay Coles was the only supermarket open in town for three days.

With roads blocked and little external help available, John and his team kept the store open, using gas generators to maintain power supply amid frequent outages. John and one of the Coles bakers worked through the night to ensure there was fresh bread to feed exhausted firefighters, police, volunteers and the local community.

He made sure meals and essentials were donated to emergency crews, nursing homes and evacuation centres as well as donating four pallets of fruit and vegetables to Mogo Zoo.

Peter Volf, the Chief Inspector of Policy for the Bega Valley Sector of the South Coast District, said: “Despite the adversity John and his team faced – fires raging around the area, no electricity, no phone service, roads in and out of the area blocked – he selflessly continued to operate his stores so that he could feed his community.’’

Angus Barnes, NSW RFS Operational Officer, Far South Coast

My name is Inspector Angus Barnes, Operational Officer, Far South Coast, for the NSW Rural Fire Service and I commend John Appleby, Regional Manager of Coles Supermarkets, for his dedication and support for the RFS and the community of the Far South Coast, during the unprecedented and catastrophic bushfires of 2020.

During what was the longest and most destructive fire event we have ever experienced, John worked tirelessly to support the RFS, and facilitated the donation of more than $50,000 in much needed food and supplies for our weary fire fighters, other emergency services and the community.

John and his team also made packed lunches for the firefighting crews, provided daily logistical support also facilitating staff to work through the night so that our crews could be provided with fresh food around the clock. Not only did John assist the RFS field crews, he simultaneously provided nursing homes, evacuation centres, the Incident Management Team, Police and members of the community that needed help, with food and supplies, during a time when the town had no other supermarket or shop open.

With fires raging around Batemans Bay, no power and all major roads blocked, John overcame adversity and continued to help the RFS and his community when they needed it the most.

Steven Cain, CEO Coles Group

At Coles Group, we are immensely proud of our team members who fed and helped the community during the 2019/2020 bushfires crisis. John Appleby, in particular, embodied our purpose to sustainably feed all Australians to help them lead healthier and happier lives, showing our values of passion and pace and responsibility in supporting his team and the wider Batemans Bay community in a time of great need. John went above and beyond, ensuring our emergency services, volunteers and evacuees could get the food and suppliers they needed, as well as helping our customers feel safe and calm in our Batemans Bay store.

Clr Liz Innes, Mayor, Eurobodalla Shire Council

"Congratulations on your nomination for the ‘Big Heart Award’ in the Biggies by the Business Council of Australia.

I strongly support this nomination. The 2019-20 Black Summer Bushfires resulted in many challenges for the community and business owners alike. These challenges included the closure of main transport routes and the loss of power. During these times, you went above and beyond to serve the community, emergency responders and your own team.

Following the initial impact on New Years Eve 2019, you donated a significant amount of food to the emergency evacuation centres, opened your store to community under difficult circumstances and raised money for our local fire brigades.

Your outstanding character and integrity during this time is something you should be very proud of."

Peter Volf, Chief Inspector of Police, Bega Valley

I commend John Appleby for his instrumental leadership and facilitation of support for the Emergency Services, and the community, during the catastrophic and unprecedented bushfires of 2020.

John provided unwavering support to our Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) at Moruya. He assisted seconded police, charities, evacuation centres and anyone in need within the community, during this difficult time. He personally delivered supplies to the Batemans Bay Police Station without request which lifted the spirits of all police in the area.

Despite the adversity John and his team faced – fires raging around the area, no electricity, no phone service, roads in and out of the area blocked – he selflessly continued to operate his stores so that he could feed his community.

John was personally affected during this crisis by the loss of his mother-in-law’s home at Malua Bay, and his family relocated to Sydney so that he could focus on supporting his team and the community, working tirelessly, day and night.

His support has been unwavering, overwhelming and something that will remain in the memories of Emergency Services for years to come. I commend John to you unreservedly for any award or commendation that your organisation can provide him.

Coles manager John Appleby rises to the occasion as community hero

This article first appeared in The Australian newspaper on Monday 8 March 2021.

“I remember being in Coles on January 5, 2020, with very little power, no dairy, no meat, no frozen foods and very little in the way of pasta or tinned vegetables,” a Batemans Bay resident told the Business Council of Australia last week.

It was the height of the devastating bushfires.

“We came straight from the evacuation centre covered in ash and were so grateful that John (Appleby) and a few staff members were there so we could get some food.” The woman posted her thanks on the site dedicated to the BCA’s Biggies award for civic contributions — a site that has seen high levels of engagement since public voting for the “people’s choice” award opened last week.

The Biggies finalists — four individuals and seven companies — are profiled on the Biggies website, with the public invited to vote for their favourites.

Feeding the community in a crisis

This article first appeared in The Australian newspaper on Monday 25 January 2021.

As the fires burned around him and the sky turned an apocalyptic red, John Appleby felt an overwhelming feeling of responsibility to his community.

The Coles regional manager based at Bateman’s Bay on the NSW south coast watched his family flee the flames and head for Sydney.

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