The average person uses 80 to 100 gallons of water per day. But Hillsdale resident Betsy Clark said she distributes 4 cases — just over 12 gallons — of water a day to residents of Flint, Michigan, who are suffering from lead-poisoned water.
When a state of emergency was declared in Flint in January after the tap water was discovered to contain high levels of lead, Clark challenged her family, friends, and coworkers to start a water drive for the suffering families there. Her challenge soon became Project FLINT — Faith Living In Needy Times — Hillsdale’s support to the crisis. The project primarily collects clean water, but also clothes and personal items for Flint.
Lorna Busch, community member, also teamed up with Clark to reach out to the schools and churches. She said that since she heard of the crisis, she woke up three nights in a row at 3 a.m. thinking about it. Finally she decided to take action.
“I just wanted to challenge our county to lift Flint for a very intense and temporary time,” she said. “Government is not the party we rely on to fix our problems. It has to be the people.”
Kevin Phillips, lead pastor of the Hillsdale Assembly of God, said that it all started with a phone call from Clark and a conviction that it is a human responsibility to help those in need.
“If this kind of need is represented in the state of Michigan so close to home, I think it would be a sorry thing for us not to act,” Phillips said.
He also said that community involvement has been tremendous. Clark said that she would like to see more Hillsdale businesses and college students become involved in the effort.
Project FLINT expanded to local schools and churches — including Camden-Frontier schools, Davis Junior High, GEIR Elementary, Hillsdale High School, Pittsford schools, St. Anthony Catholic Church, and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church — who began collecting clothes, water, and personal items for the city.
Clark said that she was humbled and saddened by how the citizens of Flint have suffered because of the harmful water.
“These people have bathed in this; their cars are ruined; their clothes are ruined; they’ve ingested the water; they have lesions on their skin; their pets have suffered,” she said. “Think of all the uses of water.”
Busch said that the problem in Flint will be lasting and will provide opportunities for all kinds of support.
“There are just under 10,000 kids diagnosed from lead poisoning effect,” she said. “In this day and age in America, this should not be happening.”
Clark, an employee of Hillsdale Health and Human Services, set up a collection location at her agency, as well as at the centrally-located Hillsdale Assembly of God.
She and her family took their first trip to Flint on Feb. 17, delivering, unloading, and distributing water and personal items at the Catholic Charities of Flint and Owosso.
Since then, the Project FLINT has taken two more trips and acquired larger transportation for the many thousands of water donations. Clark said that different businesses have offered transportation, and she estimates the community has donated six pallets — 144 cases — of water.
Camden-Frontier High School raised more than 17,000 water bottles, while Davis Middle and High School are donating socks, underwear, and deodorant. Kroger and the Hillsdale Market House have also sent semis of water.
Clark said she hopes they can make the trip every two weeks.
“We’re going to try to keep it going,” Clark said. “The people of Flint have a long way to go. It will take a long time for them to rebound.”
Clark said the support is both national and global.
“Two semis come every day from different parts of the state,” she said. “And they are getting water shipped in from Europe and Africa.”
For Clark, it is about helping people who are in need.
“If every county of the state of Michigan got together and helped,” Clark said, “we could build a whole new Flint.”