When it comes to hurricane recovery, the more people to pitch in, the better.
Team Rubicon is a national nonprofit based in California. The group has responded to hundreds of crises, including hurricanes Irma, Michael and Dorian.
It’s no easy job, but for these volunteers, it’s what they’re built for.
Team Rubicon was started in 2010 by Marines veteran Jake Wood after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti.
Since then, Team Rubicon has launched more than 800 operations in 22 countries, with their organization growing to more than 142,000 volunteers, or “gray shirts” as they call them. The group is made up of mostly veterans and first responders.
Justin Schnute has been volunteering since 2017, taking part in about 10 operations.
He’s a Coast Guard veteran and former firefighter who says it all comes back to one thing: “I wanted to serve my country. And now we have all these military veterans, and that have the same feeling that I had. They still want to serve.”
Schnute’s main task is being part of the chainsaw team.
He clears out downed trees from roads and battered homes — a job he carried out in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and Hurricane Michael in 2018.
“There I saw homes just absolutely destroyed and families standing outside their homes not knowing what they’re going to do next,” Schnute said.
Brittany Chaney works as the operations associate for Florida and she’s also a Navy veteran.
“First responders and veterans, they already have these unique abilities that they’ve learned,” she said. “They have the experience to respond to disasters and crisis in a hurry. "
When she says in a hurry, she’s not kidding.
Volunteers get a text message about an operation, and after submitting their availability on the group’s website, orders could come within 24 hours.
“I, no kidding, have a go-bag ready to go next to my bed, and it’s packed with all my Team Rubicon equipment, my clothing, my sleeping bag — everything I need,” Schnute said.
Being in the middle of a disaster can take its toll mentally. And that’s when Team Rubicon says it’s time to take a break or, as they call it, “Change your socks.”
“Relax, let the minds decompress a little bit, and a lot of people repeatedly come back to operations after they change their socks,” Schnute said.
Schnute says one moment from his operation in Hurricane Michael still resonates with him.
“I stood up at the end of the day, and again the family came out and they offered me water,” he said. “And it just blew me away that they had lost everything that they had but they’re still reaching out to me, to help me.
“That summed up exactly why I volunteered.”
And the organization is still looking for more volunteers.
“Team Rubicon is always looking for more gray shirts,” Chaney said. “It doesn’t have to be hurricane season for us to be responding. There’s just always something going on.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Team Rubicon helped at food banks, helping to distribute more than 48 million pounds of food across the United States. They also volunteered at vaccine sites.
For more information, visit teamrubiconusa.org.
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