Many people dedicate themselves to service, but decidedly fewer would choose to spend their honeymoon sorting sweaters and coats for Afghan refugees resettling in the U.S. However, one veteran couple planned their wedding and honeymoon around the opportunity to give back.
“One of the things that most attracted me to Marcus was his dedication to service,” said Victoria Young, a Team Rubicon volunteer. “I was always looking for someone to be my partner in service.”
For Young and her new spouse, Marcus Friedrich, both Navy veterans, service through Team Rubicon is a big part of their story.
“We met face-to-face during Operation Heartlander, a national flood response in Omaha, Nebraska, in April of 2019. We’d met virtually a few years before that,” said Young.
Team Rubicon is a nonprofit that serves communities all over the globe by mobilizing veterans willing to give their service in times of disaster.
Friedrich proposed Labor Day weekend of 2020 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, while the pair was on a Team Rubicon operation in response to the powerful derecho that hit the Midwest that summer.
So, the two figured it seemed fitting to spend their honeymoon serving on a Team Rubicon response operation.
“We actually planned the wedding around disaster season,” said Friedrich. “We knew we wanted to spend our honeymoon helping others.”
Their honeymoon accommodations certainly weren’t luxurious, but they didn’t mind.
“As veterans who’ve both deployed, we have no problem sleeping on a cot. Whatever food you feed us, we will eat,” said Young.
While not a response to flooding, hurricanes or tornadoes, Young and Friedrich found themselves deployed to Team Rubicon’s Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, operation.
“We view a disaster as anything that overwhelms a local community,” said Team Rubicon CEO Art delaCruz. “In this case, thousands of Afghan refugees being housed in the area certainly overwhelms that community. In August, we were watching the withdrawal from Afghanistan. We were seeing these men, women and children packing into airplanes. They were literally leaving Afghanistan with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”
It was never a question of whether Team Rubicon would respond, but what role the organization would play in the Afghan resettlement efforts.
“In mid-August, a number of government agencies and nonprofits convened to ask and answer the question, ‘How do we handle the needs of tens of thousands of people inbound to the U.S., coming to these military bases across the country?’” said delaCruz.
At that meeting, it quickly became apparent that a preliminary and essential need was collecting, sorting and distributing donated items.
“Donation management was something Team Rubicon had never tackled before, but it needed to be done, so we stepped up and said, ‘We’ll figure it out,’ and we started getting after it,” delaCruz said.
Thanks to efforts across the country, bases received thousands of pounds of clothing, shoes, toiletries, and more.
“The first thing we did was get boots on the ground at Fort McCoy. We got a warehouse off-base, cataloged what was there and what was still needed.”
Team Rubicon also built a tech and inventory system and created an Amazon wish list that changes constantly based on needs. Once the operation at Fort McCoy was up and running, the organization replicated the process at the seven additional U.S. bases across the country housing Afghan refugees.
“We built a playbook based on Fort McCoy, and we adjusted from there. After all, different bases have different needs. Now we are working to feed those needs,” said delaCruz.
For example, at the bases in Wisconsin, Indiana and New Jersey, cold-weather clothing will be a critical need.
“We filled up a semi-truck in Minneapolis in just five hours with thousands of sweaters, coats, boots, hats and mittens,” delaCruz said.
“Even when we were there in late September, the operation was looking to prioritize cold-weather gear,” said Friedrich.
So, the newlyweds spent their honeymoon “at the armory sorting those donations as they came in. We separated and organized thousands and thousands of things, and those things were getting palletized and sent where they were needed,” Young said.
They also made sure the items were clean and in good condition.
“We wanted to make sure these families have the best quality things as they resettle here in an unfamiliar place,” she added.
Young and Friedrich said it was their ideal honeymoon.
“Our foundation is service. We serve one another, we serve our community, so we couldn’t imagine anything different. We wanted to celebrate that part of us that is based in service,” Friedrich said.
“We believe a couple that serves together, stays together,” Young added.
If you are looking for charitable opportunities this holiday season or want to make end-of-year donations, consider giving cold-weather clothing like coats or boots and other needed items to Afghan refugees.
For more: https://teamrubiconusa.org/resettlement.