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Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Just a little more than two months ago, Gordon Soderberg and the Veterans Green Bus pulled into Roanoke, fresh from a months long relief effort on Long Island, N.Y., following Superstorm Sandy.
Then disaster struck the bus, which has been elaborately retooled to run on used cooking grease. Its starter system caught fire, necessitating more than $4,000 in repairs.
Soderberg picked up the fixed bus from the Virginia Truck Center in Cloverdale on May 15. It has a new starter, battery cables, air lines, fuel lines and U-joints. He paid the bill with money he raised from online and cash donations from readers of The Roanoke Times.
The final $1,200 toward repairs came from Archie Gordon . A Vietnam veteran who lives in Cave Spring and is retired from the telecommunications industry, Gordon said he hooked up with Soderberg after reading of his plight in this newspaper.
“He needed it,” Gordon told me Wednesday. “That was all that was keeping him from getting [the bus] to the West Coast. “It’s the brotherhood.”
Now Soderberg is preparing to head out of town to the next big disaster scene — Moore, Okla. , which was decimated by a gigantic killer tornado on Monday.
Once again, he’s signed up with Team Rubicon, an organization that sends skilled veterans to disaster areas, and is waiting for word on when to leave and what to bring.
There’s one remaining thing he needs — grease.
Soderberg and the bus will be at the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op on Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. accepting donations of used and new cooking oil, the fuel that will take him to Oklahoma.
Already, Soderberg has gathered 120 gallons, including 40 from the Mill Iron Grill, a restaurant in Goodview. He needs 120 gallons more.
“We’ll take anything from a gallon of Wesson Oil off the shelf to a big restaurant’s vat of used grease that’s out back,” he said.
Soderberg and the bus arrived here March 19, to pick up instruments donated at a March 20 concert that Moneta folk musician Bill Hudson organized.
The original plan was to take those instruments back to Long Island, as replacements for the ones lost by children in Superstorm Sandy.
But on the way to Hudson’s home after the concert, the bus’s electrical system caught fire on Virginia 24. Soderberg was able to douse the blaze that night, and save the instruments — but he has been stranded here ever since.
Many Roanokers read about his plight and responded with money, housing and other donations.
Wood’s Service Center on Granby Street in Roanoke, which towed the Veterans Green Bus the night of the fire, discounted the disabled bus’ storage bill.
Suzanne Osborne , a Roanoke financial planner, lent Soderberg a spare car, arranged for a donated motel room and gathered money for him. VFW Post 8467 in Meadows of Dan sent a check for $500.
The Salem Red Sox offered to let Soderberg set up an information table on the team’s home-opener weekend in April.
Vinton Police Chief Ben Cook allowed for the bus to be stored gratis on his department’s impound lot . Many mechanics called Soderberg, offering to assess the damages.
Soderberg was bowled over by that outpouring. He has told me more than once that he couldn’t have asked for a better place to be broken down and stranded than the Roanoke Valley.
He expects to be under way to Moore this weekend. It’s likely that Team Rubicon will once again load the bus with donated tools from Home Depot.
Bill Hudson is making arrangements to get the donated instruments to the children in New York.
And even though he’s leaving Roanoke, it’s doubtful you’ve heard the last of Soderberg or the Veterans Green Bus.
Among the donations he received after all the publicity about his plight was a booth at the eighth annual Netroots Nations conference in San Jose, Calif., June 20-23. It’s the largest convocation of online journalists and political activists in America.
That’s where Soderberg is headed after he helps out in Moore.
Rest assured that along the way, he’ll be spreading the word about the warm hearts of kind people from our little town in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
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