350 Wesleyans so far helped in Flint—and more volunteers needed!
Editor's Note: This comprehensive report on what Wesleyans are doing in Flint is impressive. Kudos to all the volunteers and donors. More are needed. Some are shocked to find out that only $1,500 is needed to purchase an entire semi-truck load of water there, so don't ship the water!
A couple weeks ago, some of our volunteers knocked on the door of a house to deliver water. They could hear someone coming, but it was taking a while to respond. When the door opened, they were greeted by a man in a wheelchair. Both of his legs had been amputated. When asked if he needed some water, he said "yes" and could not thank them enough. He told them, "There's no way I can get out to the distribution site, so I just haven't been getting it." Wow!
The Flint Grassroots Initiative (FGI) is not just distributing water and food, nor are we simply testing blood. With God's help we are saving lives!
Let me borrow the headline the EPA is using on their literature in Flint: "Until Further Notice . . ." This situation calls for a longer-term response. Right now, we're planning water distribution and many other services for at least the next 12-18 months.
Much is happening. FGI is staying focused on our original purpose and plan. While there is activity at our central site each week (almost daily), our large scale distribution efforts (and they truly are large-scale) happen on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month.
God is blessing us with incredible volunteers. About 70 percent of our volunteers are Wesleyan—it's an amazing mixture of people from various organizations and denominations. We've had volunteers from Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, New York, and Georgia (I might have missed a few states). We've got volunteers committed to also come from Indiana, Kansas, and other places. We've worked alongside volunteers from CNN, including Donna Brazile and other CNN staff. We had a police department (outside of Flint) give us a semi-load of water and help us serve. They committed to coming back! This Saturday, we're getting two semi-loads of water from the MEA (Michigan Education Association, the teacher's union), and they will help distribute it.
We want to say a huge "thank you" to The Wesleyan Church! We are so incredibly grateful for the support we're getting through WERF (Wesleyan Emergency Relief Fund)! In addition, we are receiving some direct assistance from other sources. For instance, we are getting significant support from Kentwood Community Church (KCC), both in financial contributions and volunteers.
We have 150-200+ volunteers each Saturday. We've got six Saturday (major) events under our belts—most of these have been Wesleyans! Many have come more than once, but I'm going to guess that we've had around 350+ different Wesleyans so far. We will need volunteers well into late summer and beyond. People can come for a Saturday event or they can help during the week.
NOTE!!! Volunteers can sign up at www.FlintGrassroots.org or by calling (810) 742-8450. We've made it really easy to do it online and choose your dates, but feel free to call also.
Our "system around the system" has four key areas that define our efforts:
- Clean water
- Food and nutritional education
- Health care and hygiene
- Race relations (reconciliation)
We average 40-45 pallets of water each Saturday (which is 105,000 – 120,000 bottles). We are distributing on site as well as in the neighborhood. Yes, we continue to distribute water in the "projects" where the National Guard has deemed it unsafe! We also serve apartment complexes (some housing senior citizens), and we go door-to-door.
This Saturday, we are moving to a multi-site strategy, because we have such a strong volunteer force and the need requires it. Briefly: we plan to add two other churches, where the need is great, but the church lacks the manpower to distribute water and meet it. We will disburse some of our volunteers along with pallets of water and FGI signage to their parking lots. We've also identified an area that is on Flint water but hasn't been served because we (and perhaps some of the residents) didn't know it. The area is considered a part of Burton, so the residents have been getting their water bills from Burton. However, the water system is actually a part of the Flint system, which means they have been using bad water and perhaps didn't know it! This Saturday, we will set up a site there and as they get their water, we will strongly encourage the folks to get their blood tested at our clinic.
We have churches/individuals who are purchasing water and paying to ship it to us. Sometimes, that costs over $5,000. While we appreciate it, there's a better way. We can secure a semi-truck load of water (20-22 pallets) for $1,500. If a church wants to do something significant and tangible, we are asking/telling churches to contribute the money directly to us rather than purchasing water and paying to ship it. In fact, they need to know a contribution of $1,500 will supply a semi-load of water to the FGI for distribution. They can do this through WERF, or at www.FlintGrassroots.org, or by sending their check (payable to FGI) to: 3825 Davison Road, Flint, Michigan 48506.
Food and nutritional education
We are distributing food, along with water, at our Saturday distribution events. We've been working with a couple sources to supply the food, both of those outside Flint. I do not have the actual numbers in front of me, but I'm guessing that we're serving 200,000-300,000 people (each time) through these efforts. It is not uncommon for us to have 6-8 people in one household. We've had to work through some philosophy and policy issues with the providers, because they wanted to require ID–which is not how we operate. We've cleared that hurdle.
We are assessing the food component, trying to decide if we should continue what we're doing or switch to the East Michigan Food Bank. It would better leverage our dollars. While we would have a larger selection/supply of food, they are also restrictive in their policies and practices, so we would have to resolve that issue and we think we can make it work. One of the reasons we're considering the move to the Food Bank is that we are trying to provide "mitigating foods," which are fruits and vegetables that directly combat lead poisoning and other toxins in the blood. This would help us do that.
In addition to providing food, we are distributing educational information that tells people the best foods to eat and how proper nutrition helps deal with the health issues they are facing. Since we're often working with under-resourced families, it's a challenge for them to consistently eat nutritious food.
If we make the move to the Food Bank, we can get a semi-load of food for $600-750. Again, if a church wants to make a contribution to a tangible project within FGI, they can donate toward a truck of food!
Health Care & Hygiene
Our health clinic has been working well. We've been providing free blood testing for children and adults. When it comes to lead in the blood, a level of "5" is serious and requires medical attention. The good news is that we've had many with safe levels below that number. The sad news is that we've also tested blood levels that reported in teens and as high as 24! We have a system in place to immediately refer these people to their physician (if they have one) or to a health care organization that will treat them no matter whether they have ID and/or insurance or not! Compounding the concern is that if someone's blood tests "safe" that does not mean lead is not in their organs.
We've been seeing 50 or more persons per Saturday in our clinic. Our goal is to serve 100 persons per Saturday. World Hope International has raised the funds to purchase two testing kits for FGI. This is a huge blessing! Those have been ordered and will be added to what we already have in the clinic. This Saturday, the University of Michigan-Flint will be at our FGI site to assess our mobile clinic and determine if they can/will help staff it during the week. Based on conversations to this point, they think they can do it.
We've also been blessed to have the mobile clinic operated by Genessee Community Health at our site. They have become a great partner and are very generous to us. They are providing testing, as well as offering health education and referrals for people with problems related to or caused by the bad water.
The winter weather in Michigan has delayed us with our shower trailer. It is onsite and ready to go, but the cold threatens to freeze pipes, etc. We will have it fully operational within the next couple weeks. This has become a sticky point with HHS/EPA and us. They do not want us to operate our shower trailer, because they want people to trust that the water is safe for bathing and they think the shower trailer only intensifies fear in people. We see the shower trailer as a way to rebuild trust in the community, as well as providing good hygiene and "sure" safe water for bathing. We're using the shower trailer!
We're also dealing with the mental health concerns, especially the anxiety and stress this situation is causing in people. As we move into warmer weather and summer months, there is great concern that we will face serious issues as the anxiety and frustration gets acted out in dangerous ways. After all, Flint is one of America's "most dangerous cities" and this water crisis hasn't changed that reality–it has the potential to exacerbate it!
God is using this crisis to build bridges across racial and socio-economic divides! We are not highlighting that FGI is focused on race relations and racial reconciliation. We're simply doing it, then allowing our actions and relationships to speak for us. It's a beautiful, God-thing that is happening.
Our next "ecumenical" service is April 17 at 5:00 p.m. Our first one went far beyond our expectations.
FGI is not just distributing water and food, nor are we simply testing blood. With God's help we are saving lives!