By Les Gura

Judson Heine believes in giving back and volunteerism. So after the longtime Asheville resident relocated to Greensboro a year ago, he researched organizations that did good work.

He landed with Team Rubicon, a national disaster relief organization begun by two Marines seeking to help after the massive earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

Today, Heine and other members of Team Rubicon find themselves in strange territory.

The spread of COVID-19 has presented the type of logistics issues that Team Rubicon’s 111,000 members—fewer than 200 of whom are paid—specialize in. Yet the virus poses hazards that can limit volunteerism.

“We’re putting people out there to help in COVID-19 any way we can without endangering ourselves or others,” Heine says. “It could be guiding people where to park at hospitals, or helping with warehousing, shipping and receiving.”

In this case, it meant working with another important component of disaster relief efforts—organizations donating equipment.

North Carolina Baptists

Heine was called to help pick up and deliver a shipment of 2,000 protective N95 masts to Cone Health in Greensboro, one of a group of providers in North Carolina to benefit from a donation of nearly 30,000 masks by North Carolina Baptists on Mission, an auxiliary to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Wake Forest Baptist Health served as the conduit for ensuring medical centers and other providers received the masks to help protect in the battle against COVID-19.

In Heine’s case, that meant picking up 2,000 masks in Winston-Salem from Gary Gunderson, vice president of Wake Forest Baptist’s Division of FaithHealth, and driving them in his van to Cone Health.

Wake Forest Baptist also sent the donated masks to Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center and hospitals in Wilmington, Lumberton and Randolph. Another 1,000 were given to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and EMS. Gunderson says about 200 of the donated masks also are being used by Wake Forest Baptist chaplains to provide spiritual care to patients. Separately, another 1,600 masks were distributed to hospitals through the North Carolina Association of Free & Charitable Clinics based in Winston-Salem.

Gunderson lauded the efforts of individual volunteers such as Heine and organizations such as Baptists on Mission in bringing another element to a critical situation. It’s one also recognized by Baptists on Mission.

“Medical personnel need the masks greatly right now,” Richard Brunson, who leads Baptists On Mission, recently told the Biblical Recorder, a publication serving the state’s Baptist population. “Besides, they didn’t belong to us anyway, they belonged to God! God just let us hold on to them for a little while until He could use them to bless others.”

Often it’s in the small things

It takes creativity and innovative efforts to help with this new form of disaster relief. Scott Walters, North Carolina state coordinator for Team Rubicon, says assistance efforts are still being organized when it comes to COVID-19.

Team Rubicon is ready, he says, because its many volunteers come from a military culture. Although it was started as an organization to attract veterans to volunteer service, Team Rubicon soon grew to welcome emergency workers and now accepts anyone with a willingness to serve.

Under COVID-19, that can amount to help such as what Heine provided. More often, though, it is in the small things.

“It’s usually neighbors helping neighbors, just going out and doing individual acts of kindness, from cutting grass to walking dogs, checking on the elderly, buying groceries,” Walters says. “It really doesn’t matter.”

Gunderson praised those who give—individuals and organizations—during such uniquely difficult times.

“The spirit of volunteerism adapted by individuals and organizations such as Team Rubicon allow tasks to get done that are in turn critical to allowing our medical professionals to focus on their primary concern—keeping people healthy,” he says. “It’s uplifting to have people ready to give back even in times of crisis.”

As Gunderson and Walters note, no one should take on any volunteer tasks that threaten their own health. That’s a policy Heine believes in, too.

“I was really just a pawn in this whole game,” he laughs. “Picking up and delivering the masks was trying to do my part. And in the last few days, I’m doing my part by staying inside.”



First Responder Chaplains