Loving a resilient city

Three Help Centers in Flint offer drive-through distribution of healthy food and bottled water--Bethel and Asbury United Methodist churches and Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ. ~mic photo/Mark Doyal

Greg Timmons, Executive Director for Flint Restoration for The United Methodist Church, provides an update.

Senior Editor-Writer Michigan Conference

Water delivery is still an important part of the response to the Flint water crisis. But relief doesn’t just come in a bottle. As the United Methodist Church’s involvement enters its third year, a broad model of sustainability and growth is being developed by Greg Timmons, Executive Director for Flint Restoration for the United Methodist Church. Employed by the Crossroads District since August of 2016, Greg has seen his job evolve beyond the coordination of resources.

City in recovery

The emergency situation that began in the fall of 2015 has evolved over the past 39 months. Bottled water, water filters and testing kits are still part of the day to day life of Flint residents. “That may sound like it’s all just a give-away,” Greg reflects. “But the people didn’t create this crisis in the first place.” The contamination of the water happened in a city suffering high unemployment and an infrastructure low in assets. “Flint residents,” Greg explains, “do not want to be taken care of. They want to be helped to become independent.”

“We are years from getting back to a sense of normalcy.” ~ Greg Timmons 

Timmons assesses the current situation and says, “We are years from getting back to a sense of normalcy.” When he is not networking, forging new partnerships or managing resource systems, Greg is focused on building hope. “One of things we have to do is create a whole new visual impact for the community. Show a semblance of success, and success breeds success. And success breeds hope.” To that end he spends a lot of time with non-profits developing programs aimed at providing a different vantage point for Flint’s children. “When kids start talking about hope, parents start talking about hope,” Greg notes. “It’s called community resiliency.”

Meeting needs

Now employed by the Crossroads District and working with their District Board of Missions, Timmons reaches out to organizations like Flint ReCAST, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and Habitat for Humanity. Such connections leverage resources and combine efforts in creative ways. The Habitat vision is to organize and train block clubs to help home owners become self-reliant and to make the neighborhood safer. Big Brothers and Big Sisters offer programs dealing with life management issues.

At present there are three Drive-up Help Centers serving Flint Residents. Food, water and personal care items are shared curbside at Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ, Bethel and Asbury United Methodist churches. ~mic photo/Mark Doyal

United Methodist efforts are primarily focused at Bethel and Asbury UMCs, both of which serve as Community Help Centers distributing food, water, personal care items, and counseling. Flint Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ hosts a third Help Center. In addition, Asbury and Calvary are managing home delivery of water for the city to those unable to drive-through and pick up supplies. These services have been made possible through collaboration of the Crossroads District, a grant from Pepsico, the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, and the federal and state governments.

“When things leave the headlines,” Greg reflects, “people tend to think ‘it’s over.’ But nutrition is not an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing.” At present about 2,700 families a week are being served at the three Help Centers.

The existence of the Help Centers is currently at great risk, however, as the state supply of bottled water is anticipated to end in March, 2018. Further, the U.S. Labor grant that provides workers also ends in March and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services cannot commit to continued supply of food. “So we have to figure out how to deliver water and healthy, lead mitigating food moving forward,” Greg explains.

Future outlook

While the government-sponsored supply of water is ending, the need for water is just as great. Pipe replacement in Flint is forecasted to be completed by 2020. However, the replacement of the pipes itself creates further contamination of water, releasing loose lead particulates into the system. So the need for water—home-filtered or bottled—will continue.

In December of 2017 a survey was done of Flint residents called, “From Crisis to Recovery.” There were 2,029 respondents from all nine wards in the city. Questions dealt with water use with the answers intended to inform future water services provided to residents, including those offered through The United Methodist Church.

In summary, the survey revealed lack of understanding of the importance of water quality monitoring and how to do it: 51% of respondents either reported not having a water filter at home or have lack of confidence in using and maintaining a filter. Note, the state and city provide free filters made available at City Hall.

A recent survey indicates that residents on average use 14.7 cases of water a week and usually make two trips to a distribution site to pick the water up. The state is planning to end the supply of bottled water next month, causing city relief managers to scramble for alternative ways to meet needs. ~mic photo/Mark Doyal

It was clear from the survey that respondents who use the Help Centers were more knowledgeable about water filtration. Greg comments: “Those served by the Help Centers scored higher for water-related competency in all categories measured. The Church has been the most effective educator and systemic community supporter as it pertains to meeting the public needs … the Church is a trusted entity.”

Bottom line conclusion of the survey: “The effects of the water crisis continue to impact the daily lives of Flint residents … Given the ongoing risk to public health, the widespread infrastructure damage both internal and external to the households, and the work that still must be done in order to restore trust and confidence in government, the free bottled water supported by the State is an essential resource that should continue as one of the many efforts to move Flint from crisis to recovery.”

Thanks were also expressed to residents who participated in the survey, “who have, in the midst of their own struggles, given the time to participate in this survey. Their voices are critical to Flint’s recovery.”

United Methodist support

Timmons offers three ways that United Methodists across the state and around the connection can continue to partner in Flint’s recovery.

Dollars continue to be important to support efforts meeting physical, spiritual and educational needs. Checks may be sent to the Crossroads District of The United Methodist Church for “Board of Missions Water Fund”; 1309 N. Ballenger Hwy., Suite 2, Flint MI 48504.

“For me this effort is about saving souls and that’s why I am glad United Methodists are in it!” ~ Greg Timmons

Participation in efforts of spiritual formation is encouraged, as well as prayer. Stephen Ministers could benefit many residents coping with water-related stress. Especially needed are ministries with female heads of households and with young African American men.

Volunteers may be needed as the paid labor force is no longer available for water and food distribution. Timmons hopes for a new grant but is also considering a system utilizing strings of volunteers. More specifics to come.

All in all, Greg Timmons is grateful for all the collaborations and connections. “We are not going this alone,” he reflects. “For me this effort is about saving souls and that’s why I am glad United Methodists are in it!” From the beginning of relief and into recovery, the United Methodist Church has taken leadership in Flint … the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Water Crisis Emergency Coordinator Pete Plum, Crossroads District, Flint Water Recovery Coordinator Greg Timmons, Flint pastors and Michigan Area. “The community looks to us. That’s a big deal,” Greg says. “Flint City officials have thanked the United Methodists for giving and giving and giving some more.”

He credits the United Methodist focus on justice and morality as critical things to bring to the table. “We are blessed that we come in the name of Jesus with our interest in helping people and saving souls not in politics,” Greg concludes.



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