What is happening in Flint, Michigan?
Last fall, testing revealed that lead had been leaking into the municipal water system in Flint – an industrial city in the southern end of the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan. Flint is a mostly African-American city of about 100,000 people with more than 40% of the population living below the poverty line.
Back in 2014, under state-appointed emergency management, the city began a process of switching municipal water sources from a Detroit system to the Flint River – a switch that lead to corrosive water being pumped through aging pipes that would leach lead into the public water supply. Despite complaints and testing results suggesting dangerous lead levels, the state did not acknowledge the crisis until last month.
In addition to the physical health issues around lead poisoning and new reports of dangerous bacteria, Flint Residents have been hurt emotionally and spiritually by a system seemingly built to marginalize the voiceless, creating a culture of distrust for governments and other power structures.
How have Episcopalians responded?
Recognizing this crisis and the lack of safe drinking, cooking, and bathing water for Flint’s poorest, Episcopalians in Flint and beyond began a response in partnership with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan, and Episcopal Relief and Development working alongside local Episcopal-affiliated service organizations. About $15,000 was put into the first phase of the project.
Addressing the need for safe drinking, cooking, and bathing water, St. Paul’s – acting as response headquarters – purchased pallets of bottles and gallons to distribute to Flint residents. Using connections with the local food bank and their purchasing and transportation assets, our neighborhood partner organizations – Crossover Downtown Outreach Ministries, St. Andrew’s Soup Kitchen and Church, Christ Enrichment Center, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – gave out tens of thousands of bottles and gallons of water between October and January.
We also provided high-grade water filters for pitchers that were distributed to classrooms in Flint Community Schools through the United Way of Genesee County. These filters hit 25% of all classrooms in the Flint school district.
In addition to the distribution process, key leaders from our churches and organizations have been involved in advocacy activities from a city-level to statewide policy working address the issues of injustice and inequality that led to the Flint Water Crisis.
In January, the state officially acknowledged the public health crisis, bringing in groups like the Red Cross and National Guard to go door-to-door handing out bottled water, filters, and testing kits. Water donations from individuals, nonprofits, and businesses have flowed in en masse to organizations and faith centers working on the ground.
What’s next for the response in Flint?
This is a long-term response. It will be years until the issues of safety and infrastructure can be fully addressed and generations as residents deal with the effects of lead poisoning on their children.
Continuing on in our faith-led response to the water crisis in Flint, our churches and organizations are responding to residents’ needs by making sure they have access to healthy, fresh foods. Evidence has shown that foods rich in iron, calcium, and vitamin C can help combat the effects of lead poisoning. Examples of some of these foods include green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, lean red meats, and dairy.
Most of the neighborhoods in which we’re working are considered “food deserts” – urban areas in which it is nearly impossibly to buy affordable or quality fresh foods. These are foods that the existing system is not able to provide.
Beginning this month, the existing response project will expand to include these fresh foods to be distributed through our partners – St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Soup Kitchen, Crossover Downtown Outreach Ministries, and Christ Enrichment Center.
The distribution of the healthy, fresh foods will be built into existing food giveaways and prepared meals. It will also become an important part of multi-generational literacy programs and other skills trainings as a way to provide both the nutritional and educational support to combat the effects of lead poisoning.
At January’s Diocesan Council meeting, members unanimously approved $20,000 additional funds to support the response. This continued and expanded investment, along with continued partnership with Episcopal Relief and Development is a start in establishing a meaningful, long-term response with the people of Flint.
How can I/my congregation get involved?
Flint is in a state of crisis and the needs shift from day to day. With the influx of donations and new assistance from the state, we must act flexibly and responsively to support those that are falling through the cracks of the existing system.
Giving financially to our response efforts helps us act responsively, flexibly, and broadly.
Through the support of individuals and congregations, we will be able to provide access to the healthy, fresh foods that help combat lead poisoning. We will be able to ensure that the safe water provided by our partner organizations does not run out. And we will be able to fulfill our baptismal promise to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being.
There are two ways you can donate, by check and online:
Give online using PayPal, a safe and secure payment provider, at www.tinyurl.com/EpiscopalFlint.
Send checks marked “Water Relief” to –
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
711 S Saginaw Street
Flint, MI 48503
For more information about getting your church involved in the response efforts, contact Director of Communications and Public Engagement Katie Forsyth at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 877-752-6020.