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Navy veteran Gordon Soderberg has received almost $2,000 in donations and offers from mechanics to fix the Veterans Green Bus.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Monday, Gordon Soderberg was stranded in Roanoke, not quite sure how he was going to pay his hotel bill, and fretting about the future of the Veterans Green Bus. He had planned to leave town on it the week before last, but the bus was damaged by an electrical fire March 20.
Today, the Navy veteran is staying in a donated motel room on Franklin Road. His phone started ringing Tuesday morning with offers of help and it has barely stopped. He’s still unsure about the bus’ fate. But he’s bowled over at the response by the good-hearted people of this region.
Owners of different lots where Soderberg could store his fire-damaged bus have offered their places. Mechanics have called offering services.
VFW Post 8467 in Meadows of Dan sent a check for $500. “If we can help a veteran who’s in trouble, we try to help wherever he is,” said quartermaster Jim Saunders.
Online donations of $10, $20 and sometimes more have trickled in. Others have dropped off cash. By Thursday, the donations totaled about $2,000.
“I feel really blessed,” Soderberg told me Thursday. “Roanoke’s definitely a giving place. The response has been incredible.”
Tuesday’s column about Soderberg’s plight recounted how he and the former school bus spent nearly five months on Long Island. He drove it there from Detroit early in November, right after Superstorm Sandy.
With him he brought nearly $50,000 in tools donated by Home Depot. Until earlier this month, the bus served as a command center for hundreds of veterans and thousands of other volunteers working in cleanup efforts at Rockway Beach, one of the towns most devastated by the storm.
Soderberg came to Roanoke on March 19 to support a benefit concert organized by local folk musician Bill Hudson to collect musical instruments for children who had lost theirs in the storm. A little more than an hour after the March 20 concert, an electrical short in the ignition system caused the fire.
Soderberg was able to douse it and save 30 instruments and the bus’s elaborate biodiesel fuel system. But it left the bus inoperable and Soderberg at wits’ end.
After the story appeared, Suzanne Osborne of Raleigh Court swung into action.
She collected some money from friends and dropped it off to Soderberg at the Holiday Inn Express in Gainsboro. She also loaned him an old Jeep she owns for transportation.
Through Granger Macfarlane, who owns the Colony House Motel on Franklin Road, Osborne arranged for a temporary no-charge room.
“Gosh, how could you not feel benevolent?” Osborne said.
Vinton Police Chief Ben Cook happened to be on the volunteer fire crew that responded to the Veterans Green Bus after it caught fire on Virginia 24. He got a chance to get to know Soderberg that night.
Last week, Cook called him and offered the Vinton Police Department impound lot as gratis storage space for as long as Soderberg needs it.
“I was just infatuated by the service they’ve provided,” Cook told me. “He’s a pretty squared-up guy.” Soderberg accepted the offer.
It wasn’t the only offer of storage Soderberg received.
Berglund Automotive Group called me offering free storage. So did Jay Jones, owner of AAA & Jay Automotive in the Hollins area. Jones moved his family down here from Long Island some time ago; he saw it as a chance to give back to someone who spent months helping his home place.
“That’s what this world’s all about,” Jones told me. “It’s about helping other people out. … I love Roanoke. This area comes together when it needs to come together.”
Wood’s Service Center on Granby Street in Roanoke towed the broken down bus to its lot after the fire. Greg St. Clair, fleet manager of Wood’s, said owners Tommy and Allen Wood have waived the normal $50 per day storage fee.
One of the first outfits I heard from after Tuesday’s column was the Salem Red Sox. They called offering storage space, too.
Shea Maple, the team’s director of corporate partnerships, is trying to arrange for Soderberg to make one or more appearances during the Red Sox’ six-game opening homestand that begins April 12.
“It really depends on how things play out for him,” Maple told me. “It sounds like he may be here a while.”
Soderberg remains uncertain how much it will cost to fix the bus — if he can.
“I’ve got to face the potential that the bus isn’t salvageable. I’m still waiting to find out,” he said.
If he can’t save it he’ll salvage the $8,000 fuel system that allows it to run on discarded restaurant cooking grease and try to find another bus to install that in.
He said he was supposed to take the Veterans Green Bus to Chicago for a demonstration at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and then later in April to an Earth Day event in San Diego, Calif. But it doesn’t look like the bus will make either of those.
Soderberg’s still working on a way to get the instruments collected at Hudson’s concert up to children in New York.
But at least some of the pressure is off in the wake of the fire.
“I thought I was going to be sitting on the side of the road,” Soderberg told me. “Now, I feel like I can breathe.”
That’s because of all you good people who have answered the call of a veteran who devotes his time to helping others in distress.
So pat yourself on the back. You deserve it.
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