As Patricia Cole sat by the mounting cases of bottled water in the lobby of True Bethel Baptist Church on Sunday, she marveled at how the effort to get clean drinking water to Flint, Mich., has been spreading from city to city.
“It’s a humbling feeling,” Cole said as the church service continued in the auditorium. “For this reason, they are bonding together.”
After looking on Facebook the night before to see posts about bottled drinking water collections from all over, she came by Sunday to drop off some money.
By mid-afternoon there were about 300 cases of water, with 32 to 44 bottles each.
“This is huge,” said Cambridge Boyd, an elder and project manager at True Bethel.
Water will continue to be collected at True Bethel’s main church at 907 East Ferry St. and at its 472 Swan St. location until Thursday. Collections at its Niagara Falls church at 1120 South St. will continue through Wednesday.
On Friday, Boyd and other volunteers will drive a truck loaded with the water to Michigan. “We’re convoying to Detroit,” about 70 miles from Flint, he said.
The water collection project is a collaborative effort with two other churches in Syracuse and Rochester. By next Saturday morning, Boyd expects to be going door to door passing out water in Flint with the Red Cross and Michigan State Police, in what the church dubbed Operation H²O.
“It’s going to be amazing,” he said. “That was our mission this year: to go whereever the need is.”
Contamination in the public water system began in 2014 when Flint tried to save money by switching to what turned out to be a corrosive water source that caused lead to leach from aging pipes.
Officials did not take action until tests showed children in the majority-black community north of Detroit had elevated levels of lead, a neurotoxin.
Controversy over the contamination has embroiled politicians all the way up to Michigan’s governor..
“This could have been corrected,” Rosetta Swain, a pastor at True Bethel said Sunday.
For a while now, worries about water troubles have had her stocking up on bottled water in her basement. Now she has started collecting donations of bottled water for the people of Flint from local retailers.
“This morning I was out early,” she said. “I hit the dollar stores.”
On Sunday morning, as the service led by Pastor Darius Pridgen continued inside, Tyrone Goodson added two cases of Wegmans’ bottled water to the stacks in the lobby. The mounting pile impressed him.
“I was blown away,” he said as he stood with his daughter. “That’s just a fraction of what they’ve collected.”
The generosity he saw reminded him of the help and support he got from the community when he was a boy and his family moved here from Mississippi.
“We were able to survive on the love and generosity of a lot of people here in Buffalo,” he said.
Challenges, like polluted drinking water, can happen anywhere. They are opportunities for communities to come together, like they are now for the residents of Flint, he said.
“Right now those people need support,” Goodson said. “Not just prayers. They need action.”