In response to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, which has brought over 50 inches of rain, flooding Houston and southeast Texas, East End Cares has launched Help is Here – Harvey Response Project, an online fundraising campaign that supports Team Rubicon.
East End Cares is a local forum that unites those in need with people who want to assist. “East End Cares was born in the wake of Hurricane Sandy,” Melissa Berman explained. “We’re a Facebook group – we’re not a traditional 501c3 organization, but what we do is we are a volunteer network and we connect people who want to help in all different areas – in disasters – that’s obviously how we started – but also with local things. So, we connect people that want to help with opportunities to help.”
The community’s support of the organization was immediate. “We just started during Sandy because everyone wanted to help and everyone was kind of all over the place, so a group of us got together and said let’s make a Facebook page and see what happens,” Berman noted. “Within ten minutes we had 2,000 members. Then we organized a bunch of volunteer trips and it’s been a really beautiful thing in the community.”
While the group was initially founded to provide assistance locally, its reach has since expanded. “We did a big effort that went on for six months after Hurricane Sandy. Whoever’s a member would step up and do an initiative,” Berman said. “We used the network online, which is close to 4,000 people, to communicate and bring everyone together. If somebody was doing a food drive, everybody would respond. It really has worked really well.”
The organization has also provided aid internationally. “We’ve done some fundraising events. We organized a group, the year before last, that went to Greece to help the refugees, and that was a pretty amazing project,” she noted. “We sent 12 people down to Greece – we had ocean rescue, we had a medical team, we had a ton of medical equipment – and made a really nice impact there. We’ve done beach clean ups here. If The Retreat is doing something or iTri is doing something or somebody needs volunteers we promote that.”
It was through their Sandy relief efforts that they intially started working with Team Rubicon. “We worked with a lot of people on the ground because there were so many great groups and individuals doing things, but Team Rubicon is just amazing. They were the ones on the ground who were just on top of things. Veterans have perfect skills for these disaster situations,” she noted. “They can go in and use these skills and they give veteran volunteers a new purpose.”
“Team Rubicon is a disaster response organization that unites the skills of veterans and civilian first responders to get into situations that require this immediate need for disaster response, such as Harvey,” explained Marc DeNofio, Communications Manager, Region II, Team Rubicon. “We use those skills of the veterans and put them together with first responders like firefighters, EMTs, and provide the best possible service we can to help these communities get back on feet.”
Nearly 90 Team Rubicon members have already been deployed to Texas to provide aid. “We have everyone engaged in this type of operation because of the magnitude of it. We’ve called in a lot of our remote support in terms of public information, communication, etc.,” DeNofio noted.
They have six floodwater rescue teams who are conducting door-to-door searches in and around Houston. “We were there just about a day or two after everything got going. We put in place our rescue operations group, which is doing boat rescues,” he shared. “With that group we have about 30 people on the ground doing response for the rescue side of it. These are individuals with our group who are certified to do water rescue – so they have either done it in the military or they do it as a job outside of their volunteering with Team Rubicon. A lot of these guys are firefighters who do boat rescue in their regular jobs.”
Team Rubicon expects to be there for months and they have plans to deploy hundreds of volunteers who will lead a clean-up effort that focuses on debris removal, muck out, heavy equipment, and chainsaw operations, and also damage assessments and expedient home repair.
“At this point we’ve just started to gather teams down in Texas to start to do the actual response, where we’ll be doing damage assessment and sending our teams out to start to collect those damage assessments on homes in the communities,” he explained. “Then we’ll start to deploy our teams to actually start to work on some of those damaged homes.”
“We are constantly in need of supplies that will keep us in the field, from making sure that we have enough gloves, face masks,” DeNofio added. “That’s one of the best ways the community can get involved, to provide funds through our website so we can stay in place longer and to have the right resources so we can actually handle that.”
The impact of natural disasters like this one can last well beyond what many might expect. “We’re still doing recovery from Sandy,” DeNofio noted. “We are still engaged with the community on the Island and we’re still doing recovery with individuals and their homes and getting them back in habitable homes there.”
Eventually, once it’s safe, members of East End Cares will join Team Rubicon in Texas. “We’re going to have a team of volunteers from here, but this time, rather than going in on our own, we’re going to work with Team Rubicon,” Berman shared. “A benefit of working with Team Rubicon is since they’re on the ground, they’ll know what stage everybody is in in the relief effort. It’s going to be a really, really long rebuilding/recovery process. “
In addition to the online fundraising campaign, East End Cares is also planning a local benefit. “We’re going to do a fundraising event, which is great because it’s so nice that the whole community can get involved,” Berman noted. “The thing about East End Cares is it’s really there to be a forum for anyone who wants to get involved. Like, I saw this woman from Montauk, she has a contact in Texas and she’s started to collect school supplies to send down to these kids. She has a place to send them and she can use our Facebook page and post about it so people can contribute or help her. That’s another way that we can hopefully help.”
“We have a really generous, capable, amazing community,” Berman added.
You can donate to the Help is Here Harvey Response Project by texting “Cares” to 87872 or by visiting fundraise.teamrubiconusa.org.
To learn more about East End Cares, visit www.facebook.com. To learn more about Team Rubicon, visit teamrubiconusa.org.