Chicago’s United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks, has played host to the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup, political conventions, and sold-out concerts. Until now, however, it’s never served as a disaster relief center. These days, the arena floor is covered with tens of thousands of boxes of non-perishable food, and hundreds of boxes of personal protective equipment (PPE) are stacked in hallways. Cars file by on the street outside, dropping off or picking up donations.
To manage the PPE donation drive, the City of Chicago tapped Team Rubicon. Several dozen Greyshirts have been on site since April 13, collecting and organizing everything from gloves (50,050 pairs received) to N95 masks (102,130) to face shields (1,170). “The city came to us and asked if we were capable of handling this,” said Midwest Disaster Operations Associate Kendall Bruton. “Of course we jumped at the opportunity to be able to help out, and have been running things ever since.”
Volunteers Get Personal Protective Equipment to First Responders Near and Far
The Chicago effort is just one example of Team Rubicon’s massive, nationwide mobilization to collect and distribute desperately needed PPE to first responders. The organization was uniquely positioned to help, since it already had tens of thousands of pieces of PPE—gloves, respirators, Tyvex bodysuits—strategically positioned in around 50 caches around the country for use in its disaster recovery operations.
Greyshirts typically need the equipment when they respond to natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes. The coronavirus was a different kind of natural disaster. “We saw that first responders and medical practitioners really needed this equipment,” said Jonas Reynolds, a Team Rubicon regional administrator based in Colorado. “It really was a matter of moral conscience that led us to release all this stuff, and do it as quickly as possible.”
As of May 7, Team Rubicon had donated more than 16,000 N95 masks, 15,755 nitrate gloves, and nearly 7,000 Tyvex suits from its own stash to facilities and organizations across the U.S. Among the first responders receiving personal protective equipment directly from Team Rubicon was the police department of Altavista, Virginia, a town of 3,500 people. One of the department’s officers, Cameron Clarke, who also works as Team Rubicon’s North Carolina logistics officer, arranged a donation of 20 face shields and disposable Tyvek suits to the department. “We’re a small department, with 14 officers,” Altavista Police Chief Tommy Merricks said. “Before we got the donation from Team Rubicon, we had no Tyvek suits, no respirators. And there was no practical way for us to get them.”
In North Carolina, Team Rubicon’s PPE was scattered across the state in a series of caches when COVID-19 arrived. State Administrator Scott Walker coordinated the delivery of equipment from those caches to first responders and hospitals in communities ranging from Virginia to South Carolina. “We tried our best to get the equipment to the places with the greatest need,” Walker said. “Emergency rooms, senior living facilities, hospitals that treated COPD patients.”
PPE Donated by Others Gets Distributed by Greyshirts
Team Rubicon is coordinating similar donations all across the country, from Seattle to New York. In addition to donating its own supplies, the organization has been asked by some municipalities to help distribute stockpiles of personal protective equipment held by local emergency management centers. Boulder, Colorado entrusted Team Rubicon to distribute around 1 million pieces of PPE from a central warehouse to hospitals, police departments, and fire departments. “The office of emergency management there didn’t have the ability to distribute that,” Reynolds said. “So that’s where we stepped in. And as they got resupplied, we were the ones getting it out to first responders and medical professionals.”
Back in Chicago, one of the pandemic’s hotspots, Team Rubicon Greyshirts have found themselves conducting a disaster recovery operation in their own hometown. “When we first started the operation, I remember following our response trailer into McCormick Place, with the skyline in the background,” said Bruton. “I was like, holy crap, I never thought I’d be responding to a disaster in downtown Chicago. But it was a really cool feeling to roll into the city and be able to help them.”
Also cool? Seeing the Team Rubicon logo scrolling across the United Center’s giant video screens. Bruton grew up on Chicago’s South Side as a die-hard Bulls fan. “To see the Team Rubicon logo on the marquee, next to the logos for the Bulls and Blackhawks, is pretty special,” she said. “It just makes me smile.”
Called to Serve in Chicago
Watch these Greyshirts get PPE delivery done.