Metro Detroiters answer call to help neighbors in Flint

Jacob Carah, Mark Hicks and Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Flint — Bottle by bottle, emergency responders are slowly rehydrating a city desperate for safe drinking water amid a groundswell of support from nearby communities looking to ship as much water as they can to the cause.

“There is a high demand,” Staff Sgt. Frederick Griswold of Michigan Army National Guard said over the weekend. “They took away the one-case-per-household rule (Saturday), now we’re just handing out as much as people want or as much as they can carry, and we’re going through it pretty quick.”

Griswold said by Monday, demand had died down and Flint Fire Station 3 on the city’s north side “was back to business as usual” as residents could be seen carrying off three to four cases at a time. The station receives two to three shipments of water a day, but if it’s running low, more is delivered.

Emergency teams with the National Guard on Monday said they have covered the city with door-to-door bottled water deliveries twice since Gov. Rick Snyder’s state of emergency declaration over concerns of lead in the city’s water.

Combined with efforts from the Red Cross, officials believe they have reached out to virtually all homes at least once. Of 37,000 homes reached, there were only 5,660 instances in which no one came to the door, officials said.

Since Jan. 9, water response teams, in addition to five water resource distribution sites, distributed an estimated 165,000 cases of water, more than 91,000 filters and 28,700 water test kits, Michigan State Police Special 1st Lt. David Kaiser said Monday.

“We recognize this situation is a marathon and not just a sprint,” Kaiser said.

State officials say they are not tracking the amount of bottled water donations they’re receiving and storing at a state-certified warehouse about an hour outside the city because they’re coming from many different sources.

Officials say door-to-door efforts, meanwhile, will continue but will become increasingly targeted to ensure every home is reached. Those who are not home when water response teams visit should call 211 and a team will deliver supplies, they said. Flint’s five water distribution points at fire stations remain open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

“There have been the occasional unusual stories of a guy answering the door naked, but our soldiers and airmen are committed to the mission of getting the water delivered,” said Lt. Col. Bill Humes of the Michigan Army National Guard.

Capt. Casey Tafoya of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office added the water distribution efforts are running smoothly compared with operations earlier this month.

“Where we’re keeping (the water), the logistics of it, we’ve refined the process and worked out the kinks along the way,” Tafoya said.

But not all residents agree.

LaBrea Louis, 29, who lives on the city’s north side, said it’s been such a burden to “constantly get bottled water and filters, and not knowing when the problem will be fixed is too much.”

“This service is not enough, absolutely not,” Louis said. “To go from having safe water to being poisoned, to having to pick up bottles of water is ridiculous. What about the elderly? How’re they to get water and carry it back to their cars? This problem needs to be fixed now.”

Flint resident Derelle Blake, 38, said Monday that he also remained concerned for the city’s retirees.

“Many distribution centers around the community are doing a great job of getting the water out,” he said. “I question whether the exact population that needs it the most — older people, people without vehicles — are they able to get this water?”

At times early in the morning or after residents get out of work for the day, lines of cars have been seen stretching around the block from the water distribution centers rushing to meet demand.

“So if you come from a neighborhood where there’s no distribution, not a lot of traffic, are you still getting that same service? That’s something that really has me worried,” Blake said.

Meanwhile, donations continue to come from near and far, from communities to celebrities including Detroit rapper Big Sean, “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon, the band Pearl Jam, Cher and rocker Jack White’s Third Man Records. Craiglist’s Craig Newmark is also pitching in.

“I want to put clean drinking water into the hands of every resident of Flint, Michigan,” said Newmark, who spent 10 years living in Michigan, in a statement. “The situation is real bad and we need to get folks from across the U.S. to support the people of Flint right now.”

Water flows north

Mahir Osman said the Detroit Chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s effort to collect donations started small.

He said the group’s youth auxiliary began a drive earlier this month and dropped off about 1,000 liters of water at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan in Flint.

“When we were there, we saw a small pallet that had, maybe, two cases,” said Osman, the chapter’s secretary of public affairs. “We were shocked. We thought there would be more.”

He said that’s when the group decided it needed to help more and set up a donation collection station at its mosque on West Auburn near Crooks in Rochester Hills. It has teamed up with Humanity First USA, a Baltimore-based disaster relief group.

It’s one of a growing number of initiatives by Metro Detroit community groups, churches, businesses and government agencies to help those devastated by Flint’s water woes.

“It can devastate this community, and we need to lift them up,” said Rabbi Michael Moskowitz of Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield Township, which is also heading a collection effort. “I think people want to be part of the solution.”

Osman said the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Center is accepting water or monetary donations at the community center from 7-10 p.m. daily. It’s also providing pickup service for cases in bulk. For information, call (248) 884-7880 from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.

He also said the group delivered more than 52,000 bottles of water to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan in Flint on Saturday.

Others, including local media outlets, business owners, government officials and community groups, also have started campaigns to gather bottles of water for Flint’s beleaguered residents.

A couple of weekends ago, WJBK-TV (Channel 2) held a collection drive in a Royal Oak Kroger store parking lot. Officials said volunteers collected enough bottled water to fill five semi-tractor trailers and send them to Flint.

WDIV-TV (Channel 4) and Art Van Furniture also began a water roundup. The retailer is collecting water at all of its stores in Metro Detroit, Flint and Lansing. Officials said the stores will continue to accept the donations as long as the need exists.

Last week, the owner of Fishbone’s Rhythm Kitchen Cafe and the Wayne County Register of Deeds kicked off a similar collection drive. Donations of water can be dropped of at any of the three Fishbone’s restaurants in Detroit, Southfield and St. Clair Shores.

“It’s a major issue and as long as people keep donating, we’ll keep collecting,” said Christos Moisides, executive member of 400 Monroe Associates, which owns Fishbone’s.

Moisides said the water drive was the brainchild of Bernard Youngblood, Wayne County’s register of deeds.

“I got up on MLK Day, poured myself a cup of coffee and thought about how people in Flint were having a difficult time doing what I was taking for granted,” Youngblood said.

Elsewhere, the Michigan Muslim Community Council is working with Flint’s Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village as well as other groups to buy clean water and distribute it.

A page was created this month with a goal of raising $50,000 by Feb. 6 to aid the effort.

More than $21,800 has been donated online, while supporters have helped collection totals swell to more 100,000 bottles, coordinators said.

Participants hope more is done to revamp Flint’s water infrastructure and ensure the crisis never happens again, “but in the meantime, mobilizing to try to get as much aid as possible is something I think everybody is committed to,” said attorney Tarek Baydoun, a project spokesman and council adviser. “It’s really a human tragedy.”

That pushed Temple Shir Shalom and Temple Israel of West Bloomfield to collaborate in an effort. Partnering with the Flint Jewish Federation, both synagogues amassed water through Tuesday.

The venture emerged from Shir Shalom’s annual social action day; after a suggestion from the congregation, more than 200 cases of water were collected to fill a trailer, Moskowitz said. Temple Israel members got involved, and now the plan is to haul much more to Flint Wednesday in a 53-foot donated semi.

“People who aren’t members have walked in saying, ‘Thank you. Can we leave water here? Could we make a donation here?’ ” Moskowitz said. “It’s affirming that the goodness within people comes out in the midst of these challenges.”

‘It’s heartbreaking’

Members of Detroit’s New Covenant Church International aim to donate 200 cases of bottled water to Flint residents by Jan. 30.

With their pastor’s approval, Deaconess Charlotte Price and another member launched a collection and connected with Far West Detroit Civic Association to spread the word.

Helping out those affected by the crisis is “very important,” Price said. “A person’s quality of life is really being affected when they don’t have water. ... This is a dire need. This is not something that’s going to go away anytime soon. So we are really compelled to do this. We’re going to get the 200 and with gladness we’re going to take it up to Flint.”

Moved by the plight, Chris Kyle of Southfield and friend Mike Lake, who both promote events in the area, tapped their large social media followings to start a bottled water collection this month.

Within days, Kyle estimates they gathered more than 1,000 cases — enough to load two trucks to Flint.

On a Sunday, his group distributed water to seniors, a church, even stores running out. “There’s no better gift than giving,” said Kyle, who runs a photo booth company.

The giveaway continued last weekend, with a sizeable group hauling more than 2,000 cases in four large trucks, he said. Malak Jomaa of Dearborn joined in, seeking donations through Facebook and collecting bottles at her home.

“Seeing that situation — it’s heartbreaking,” she said.

“Whatever we can do to help besides prayers, we’re going to do it.”

Flint water resource locations

These sites are open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with the following resources: bottled water, water filters, replacement cartridges for water filters, water testing kits pick-up, drop-off location for water testing kits.

Fire Station #1

310 E. 5th

Fire Station #3

1525 Martin Luther King

Fire Station #5

3402 Western

Fire Station #6

716 W. Pierson

Fire Station #8

202 E. Atherton

Bottled water, testing kits on way to Ohio communities

Ohio is sending pallets of bottled water and testing kits to several communities near Cleveland after environmental officials said the operator of a small water system failed to notify the public for months that unsafe levels of lead had been found in some homes.

The state Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency order Monday forbidding James Bates from working at the Sebring village water treatment plant and informing him that the agency intends to revoke his operating license for endangering the public and for submitting “misleading, inaccurate or false reports.”

Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said he asked the U.S. EPA to open a criminal investigation of what occurred in Sebring, a village about 60 miles southeast of Cleveland.

--The Associated Press