As solutions for the water crisis are being explored, the immediate relief of Flint residents continues.
Senior News Editor-Writer, Michigan Area
The Flint water crisis moves in and out of the nation’s headlines these days. But the human need and compassionate response remain constant. As the politics of the situation are being sorted out, the Crossroads District of The United Methodist Church and faithful from across the Connection are acting to build courage and trust in the midst of a desperate situation.
“A lot of people are throwing their hands up,” says Pete Plum, the Crossroads District Emergency Water Resources Coordinator. “They believe things are not moving quickly enough so there’s lots of distrust.” But Pete goes on to add, “The pastors and volunteers I work with are not giving up. They are in the trenches, taking water to people and calming their fears.”
The Crossroads District is involved in a Community Partners organization of people coming together to network water response efforts. Pete reports that one grassroots group, Crossing Waters, is made up of social workers who are visiting residents to discern needs. “They told us that people are afraid and may continue to use bottled water even after what comes out of their tap tests good,” Pete remarks. Ongoing education and reassurance are important in all such cases.
Resources are holding up as three scheduled deliveries of donated water are arriving at two United Methodist churches every week. But sometimes a truck carrying 2,000 cases of water comes into the parking lot and there’s no one to unload it.
“I really need volunteers!” Pete exclaims. These trucks arrive at Calvary UMC in Flint (2111Flushing Road, Flint) every Monday and Wednesday around 1:00 pm. The truck pulls in at Asbury UMC (1653 Davison Road, Flint) on Thursdays around 11:30 am. Volunteers can call Pete at 810-240-7531 to assist in the off-loading of these water deliveries. Or call Calvary UMC 810-238-7685 or Asbury UMC 810-235-0016.
As of April 1st Pete will be employed full-time thanks to a grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). In fact, he is already working to the full extent needed.
“I am careful how I spend money,” he remarks, since the crisis stretches out into the future. The Bishop’s Appeal to the United Methodists in the Michigan Area continues to come in to the Conference Treasurer’s Office. “So far, I have been living on Crossroads District money,” Pete notes, “and I am spending wisely.” (Learn more about Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey’s appeal for Flint here.)
Plum’s spending is currently focused on Zero Water Pitchers, proven to be most effective in removal of contaminants. Deep discounts of around 60% for the latest purchase of 500 pitchers stretched his dollars. And then, of course, there’s the free stuff. “I’m always working on free stuff!” Pete laughs. Lately that bonus included 175 water filters and replacements that were a gift from the State of Michigan. “I am going through filters like crazy!”
Sustaining the effort is a challenge. The State Police officer with whom he deals told Pete, “We have given away enough filters for every resident in the city to have three.”
But those working person-to-person every day know that not everyone does have a filter. “Some people are shut-in and other people are shut-out and some don’t know how to properly use the supplies,” Pete says. That’s where the “outstanding people of God” come in.
True, the celebrities are gone. “The crisis continues but the popularity has waned,” he explains. “Still there are a lot of ordinary people doing a lot of things for Flint,” Pete says, “so I am not discouraged.”
“Whether they know it or not, all these people are helping Jesus.”
Some of those ordinary people are from nearby. Like the group of Crossroads District youth who delivered 50 cases of water and earned $5,000 for water relief through a skate-a-thon. And there is the Islamic Relief organization in Flint that has mobilized to get water to homebound people—the elderly, those without cars, single working parents. “Whether they know it or not,” Pete reflects, “all these people are helping Jesus.”
Some of those ordinary saints are from far away. A group from Baltimore, Maryland drove a Ryder truck full of water to Charity UMC in Flint. A pastor in Sacramento, California called Plum to ask where to send the money being collected for Flint through the month of April. “Given the amount of bottled water needed,” he reflects, “some of the deliveries are like a Dixie Cup. But each ounce is appreciated.” (You do the math: 3 semis a week x 24 bottles to a case x 100 cases to a skid x 20 skids to a truck = lotsa water)
Yet all that bottled water is not a long-term answer. Plum reports that pipe replacement has begun across the city. He also is aware that the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing an organophosphate treatment that might be effective in the re-coating of damaged pipes. “That could be more feasible than digging up 30,000 lawns,” he remarks.
As the haul grows longer, Pete Plum is doing presentations around the state. He will be a workshop leader at the upcoming Keep Making Peace Event April 16 in East Lansing. He and Becky Wilson, the director of the Northwest Detroit Flood Recovery Project will be guest speakers at the 2016 Annual Conference. “I have learned so much from Becky thanks to her experience with UMCOR!” Pete says. “I am fortunate and grateful because Becky didn’t have ‘a Becky’ when she began ministry with flood victims.”
Too much water in Detroit. Not enough water in Flint. Both situations cry out for relief, and with God’s help, faithful people partner and respond. THAT is the source of our hope.