FLINT, Michigan—A large white, blue and orange box truck weaves its way across Flint’s eastside. Inside a trio of workers is crowded into the cockpit of the truck, its hazard lights continually blinking, the rear latch clacking and clanking with each delivery of bottled water.
Making his way up the sidewalk, William Harris slings a case of water onto his shoulder. Harris has been aiding the water crisis for over a year, starting as a volunteer at Greater Holy Temple in May of 2016. Months later, he found himself on a delivery crew.
“I don’t look at it as a service, as getting paid. I look at it as a positive enforcement in my community,” he says, hanging onto the truck rear door latch. Harris is sometimes overwhelmed by the conditions he witnesses while on the job, but he remains focused on building rapport with families on his route.
“We’ll keep doing it until it doesn’t need to happen anymore,” Alan Lee says as he half hangs out the window and half hangs on the steering wheel. The seemingly stoic driver is the pragmatist of the small crew. If anything, Lee is irritated that water delivery is a necessity. Not that the delivery in itself is annoying, but rather the need for it. “It’s mostly annoying that you’ve gotta go and deliver water,” he quips, “more annoying than anything.”
This is part of a massive, ongoing effort by Flint area churches to deliver water once a week to 3,500 families.
Harris and Lee are part of the crew headed by Kevin Croom, who back at Asbury United Methodist Church, sits behind a desk in his small office, going through expense receipts for fuel, food, and water. Croom heads the single largest distribution center for teams committed to delivering clean, safe water to Flint residents who are unable to pick it up themselves.
The water delivery program—officially called Access and Functional Needs—is in addition to other ongoing programs in response to the Flint water crisis, such as CORE and Community Help Centers which provide a variety of services.
Flint churches including Asbury United Methodist—where Croom is the site manager and neighborhood coordinator who ensures eastside and southside families are delivered water—stepped up to ensure ongoing water delivery after the state of Michigan stopped delivery in September.
The state still provides the actual bottled water, but not the delivery of it. Instead, that burden was taken on by Asbury along with Second Chance Church, Veterans of NOW (the only non-church participating), Greater Holy Temple, Salem Lutheran, Shiloh Missionary Baptist, Prince of Peace, Calvary United Methodist, and NOW Ministries.
Croom’s team includes 12 who deliver water to the 4th and 7th Wards as well as at least part of the 8th and 9th Wards. A former U.S. Navy submariner with culinary training, Croom was hired by Pastor Tommy McDoniel more than a year ago to serve as site coordinator.
Each household can get four cases of water a week (or 16 cases a month). When the state was delivering the water, about 2,700 homes were on the delivery list. The churches stepped in to deliver water when the state stopped delivery in September—and its distribution list grew to 3,500 families because the state also reduced the number of neighborhood water pick-up sites.
The state of Michigan donates the water to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, which delivers the water to all of the church sites. The United Way helped equip the churches to take on the water delivery mission with $40,000 initial investment. The state of Michigan also continues to pay $20,000 a month to help fund delivery and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation donates another $10,000. That $30,000 is distributed by the United Way of Genesee County—but it comes nowhere near the actual cost of the program. It takes a lot of volunteer effort, workers from the Department of Labor, and others stepping up to help—such as $75,000 grants from the Ruth Mott Foundation to both Greater Holy Temple and Asbury United Methodist—to keep it going month after month.
“We are going through this month by month, like the churches are. Our grind is continuing to find continual crisis response funds. Every day, we find partners that are really empathetic with the situation we are in,” said Jamie Gaskin, CEO of the United Way of Genesee County which helps coordinate the effort.
Gaskin, who lives in Flint and has a young son, says it will be a “scary moment” when the state no longer provides funding for bottled water.
The entire community stepped up and came together to serve one another when the water crisis hit, said Gaskin, who noted that the water distribution and delivery systems were set up in less than two weeks—a monumental task that took intense perseverance and community commitment.
“(It takes a) human investment to go the extra mile every single day. The churches and nonprofits have been really working hard in a sincere way,” Gaskin said.
Each crew consists of a myriad of people and personalities, covering Flint from corner to corner. One commonality they all share is that this, at every turn, is neighbors helping neighbors. They all are Flint residents.
Croom’s delivery team embodies that sense of community. As the truck slowly moves up the street, team member Shadae Johnson walks from house to house, gently rapping on storm doors with her clipboard. Johnson, who began in December of last year, patiently waits on the doorstep for an answer. “I’m able to help others. Some of these people are real grateful. It makes me happy to see them happy.”
For more information or to get help, go to FlintCares.org.