Within walking distance of the Operation Heartlander Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Bellevue, Neb., is a restaurant called The Lodge Bar & Grill. It’s been in the owner Carol Strazdas’ family for more than 50 years. Strazdas felt guilty, she said, after all her neighbors were flooded following the March 2019 “bomb cyclone” that hit Nebraska with strong winds, blizzards and torrential rains. Strazdas’ house and her business were left unscathed. “The trailer park behind us was wiped out and the people at the lake were all flooded,” she said. She decided she needed to do something to help her community.
Strazdas’ sister, Marie Bartlett, whom she describes as “the world’s best crafter,” designed a t-shirt in response to the flooding. Strazdas ordered some of the shirts for her own employees at The Lodge to raise hope and awareness. Then patrons started asking where to buy them.
At the time, Team Rubicon was stationed at a school a few doors away from The Lodge, and Greyshirts would go there in the evenings to drink a beer and play some pool. That’s how Strazdas learned that TR was in town to help her neighbors. She got an idea: Sell the shirts to anyone who wanted them for $10 a pop and then donate all the proceeds to TR for the work the Greyshirts were doing. Her sister agreed to donate the t-shirts and her time to the cause.
“TR has been coming here often,” Barlett said on a Sunday afternoon at The Lodge, expressing her gratitude that Greyshirts and her neighbors were dining at the restaurant as they return to assess the damage to their homes.
Lorraine Riser, a retired sheriff’s detective and a Greyshirt, patronized The Lodge. “I saw a waiter wearing the shirt,” she said, “and I asked where I could buy one. He told me about the owner and how the proceeds were going to Team Rubicon. I felt compelled to tell him I was a member of TR, and that we had heard good things about The Lodge and wanted to have a burger and support the local business.” Riser said the waiter told her how he personally had been affected by the flooding; his house is on a lake.
Riser bought a shirt from The Lodge, and then she and TR member Charolette Annons got the idea to get a 2XL Greyshirt and have everyone at the FOB sign it. They then presented it to Stradzas and her staff as a thank-you gift for their generous donation.
A few days after her first encounter with The Lodge waiter, Riser said, one TR strike team leader told her, “Hey, we saw a guy who works at The Lodge today. We were at his house to do a muck out and demo.”
Greyshirts have explained that they cannot accept money from the shirt sales directly, Stradzas said. After she sells out of this week’s shirts — the other batches took two days to sell out — she’ll have sold 140 of them and that she’ll “go online and make the donation.” During the summer, she plans to do an appreciation dinner for all the locals and hire a band and barbeque. She’s decided to call the dinner “Yuck the Flood,” a play on the expletive.