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Leader of the Bucket Brigade hopes community grassroots group serves as a global model

'It is a litmus test for people who really care'

Leader of the Bucket Brigade hopes community grassroots group serves as a global model

The mission behind the heroic and now famous Bucket Brigade may one day spread into territory far larger than our majestic and looming mountain range. 

Abe Powell, Chief of the Bucket Brigade, has a vision that the grassroots effort will spread to disaster zones worldwide, inspiring communities to help communities. 

"The reality is we have to do this work because when your house if full of mud, you can't live in your house," Powell told NewsChannel 3. 

Powell is now committed to battle the aftermath of Mother Nature. Shovels and wheelbarrows are weapons in his arsenal and come the weekend, an army of do-gooders descends on Montecito. Powell called his troops the Bucket Brigade, which is now up to 2,000 members strong. 

"One of the coolest things about Bucket Brigade is it's a litmus test for people who really care a lot about their community," Powell said. "But they care in a way that like, 'We need to go do something about it.'"

One bucket at a time. Thus, the name. Powell came up with the idea that harkens back to the old volunteer firefighting days.

"That idea of when there was a need, an urgent need, people would come and respond and fall right into order and just start doing something to help," Powell said. "Even if it was as simple as just passing a bucket." 

"We rallied the troops, volunteers," said Thomas Cole, co-leader of the Bucket Brigade "Don't always know what's going to come."

Powell and his right-hand man, Thomas Cole, along with their wives, and Montecito resident Josiah Hamilton, make up the core group behind the Bucket Brigade.

"Just feeling this mud and how heavy it is and know people had to deal with this on a dark morning, it's traumatic," said Hamilton, a founding member of the Bucket Brigade. 

Powell and his group were told that two million yards of mud flowed from the mountain down onto homes and streets in Montecito the morning of January 9. He figures so far volunteers have collected roughly 100,000 yards -- a  sizable dent.

The Bucket Brigade knows more rain and mud will come; the word "stop" is not in their vocabulary.

"For us, it feels like a love song to our community and to the idea of community where what we do with our shovels and these wheelbarrows is express our love for our people," Powell said. 

If a shovelful of dirt is an expression of love, what would you call a small bulldozer loaded with earth? 

"I've got a woman running a machine right now in the Montecito Oaks," Powell said. "She's just a titan on that thing. Her name is Ann Burgard. She's just killin' it!"

NewsChannel 3 caught up with Burgard in a skid steer plowing through a yard blanketed in mud off Olive Mill Rd. 

"I'm a general contractor," Burgard said. "I've been one since the early 90's. This is what I do." 

Burgard is head of Ann Burgard Building and Finishing and said she lives in a part of Montecito that was not affected. However, children and families at her kids' school were. 

"This is way bigger than me," Burgard said. "If there are little pieces I can help with, I'm here to help. Happy to help." 

Powell said Burgard has been working non-stop, nearly every day, since the debris flow.

"There's a lot out here, unbelievable amounts of soil and debris out here. But we'll get it. One bucket at a time." 

Burgard said she'll haul out the muck and the mud as long as needed and like the others, stick to the  path Powell's carved out for the community.

"We follow this guy," Burgard said. "He's our guy. He tells us where to go and we go."

Powell senses that disasters like this are the new norm, worldwide.

"It happens in Houston. It happens on the East Coast. It happens in Florida." 

Powell was quick to say that the Bucket Brigade will rise to the call for action, each and every time Mother Nature unleashes her fury and disaster strikes. He is hopeful that the momentum of communite compassion spreads throughout the world. 

"When the mountain comes down on you, choose team, choose community," Powell said. "Pull together and ride it out together. And everybody will feel better about it. Feel like they're part of something and then we'll feel hope." 

For more information about the Bucket Brigade or to make a donation, click the link below:


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