FLINT, Mich. – You’ve seen relief workers feverishly relay bottled water from the back of a container truck before.
In Iraq or Syria during wartime.
Following an Indonesian tsunami.
A Japanese earthquake.
Katrina. Joplin. Sandy.
It’s happening now in Flint. Every day.
“You wouldn’t think in 2016, someone would be so overwhelmed and so overjoyed by a bottled water,” said Cambridge Boyd, a special projects elder at Buffalo’s True Bethel Baptist Church.
Ever since learning the stinky, often yellow-brownish water coming from the taps in their homes was poisoning the people in this Michigan city, bottled water is daily life here.
For brushing their teeth. Boiling an egg. Bathing. Mixing baby formula. Doing laundry.
Residents here can’t get enough of it.
“You guys are so sweet, so nice,” said one man from the city who grabbed a flat of water outside of a north Flint rib joint Friday night.
That water was one of the more than 300,000 bottles of water passed out so far to impoverished areas of Flint through donations collected in the cities of Buffalo and Syracuse.
“According to them, they’re not getting water like other areas,” True Bethel Pastor Darius G. Pridgen said. “So it’s very important for us to get out to the people.”
The city of nearly 100,000 was forced into bottled water use late last year.
That’s when reports surfaced that the water supply was toxic, likely responsible for poisoning thousands of children with lead and possibly associated with a rash of Legionnaires’ disease cases that left at least 10 people dead.
It’s suspected that the drinking water supply turned toxic in 2014 when state officials overseeing the cash-strapped city switched the source of the city’s public water from Lake Huron to the nearby Flint River.
The river water corroded pipes, causing lead and other contaminants to get into the city’s drinking water.
When did residents get notified how bad it really was?
“Probably about the New Year,” said Sherman Williams of Flint. “We’d been drinking it for more than a year.”
“Ain’t no telling how long it’s been messed up.”
Local governments are making bottled water available to the citizens of Flint, often at fire halls throughout the community.
But, the poorest residents often lack the means to get there.
That’s where New York’s “Operation H2O: Feed the Need Tour” comes in.
Pridgen and Syracuse Pastor Daren Jaime of the People’s AME Zion Church teamed up with Bob Rich III, president of Roar Logistics, to get donations from the City of Good Neighbors into the hands and mouths of the people of Flint.
“This is roadside medicine,” Rich said.