A glimpse of Flint from on the ground: GRCC students bring water to poisoned city

Grand Rapids Community College students wanted to help the people of Flint firsthand - so they launched a drive at their school and recently delivered water to residents on the ground, where they got a glimpse of the astounding need for basic humanity in a city on which so many turned their backs.
Theresa Tran is co-president of the Asian Student Union at Grand Rapids Community College. Tran recently spearheaded a water drive for Flint at GRCC and, along with other ASU volunteers, distributed more than 45 cases of water to the people of Flint.

I never really enjoyed watching the news, which meant my knowledge of current events didn’t extend past my Facebook posts. One day, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I saw an article with a headline about Cher calling Gov. Rick Snyder a murderer. Curious, I clicked the link, which led to an article about the Flint water crisis. How had I missed this? It wasn’t until then that I started actually researching the Flint water crisis. I was horrified to learn how long this has been going on and that most people were more worried about pointing fingers at who to blame than actually helping the citizens of Flint.

Being a part of the Asian Student Union (ASU) at Grand Rapids Community College gave me easy access to finding a way to help out the citizens of Flint. I was able to ask the Student Life faculty if I would be able to set something up to help Flint, and, after a verbal approval, I put through the paperwork to start the Flint water drive. I reserved a table in the Student Center for the next two weeks. With volunteers from ASU helping to run the table, we were able to raise over $900 and more than 45 cases of water!

It wasn’t easy — there were plenty of people who would stop by just to tell me that the people of Flint caused this problem so they should solve it themselves, or that because the government is already helping out Flint with taxpayers’ money we didn’t really need to aid them any further. With the bad also came the good; on three separate occasions I was approached by different people who wanted to donate more than $100 each. They would ask in-depth questions on how the money would be going to help the citizens in Flint.

I had originally planned to buy water with the money raised and donate it to another organization that was helping out Flint in Grand Rapids, such as Art Van, but changed my mind once I heard there were people in Flint who were too scared to get the bottled water in Flint because most places were requiring identification. I quickly got my executive board for ASU together, and we agreed to find a neutral site that doesn’t require identification for a basic necessity in life. We landed on St. Mary’s Catholic Church and arranged to arrive there on February 13 around 10am and to stay and help out until 3pm. During a meeting for ASU, I was able to enlist the help of nine other volunteers to come to Flint and lend a hand distributing water. We were to meet at Meijer on 54th Street at 8am to carpool to Flint. After buying water from Meijer to load up our U-Haul, we were on our way.

Upon arriving at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, we quickly formed an assembly line and unloaded the U-Haul. Then, some of our volunteers went to go buy more water to bring back. Others got to stay behind and help distribute the water. I got to stay there and learned quickly how much water is truly needed in Flint.

Our first load of water managed to fill most of the church’s garage, but was depleted rather rapidly. Every member in a family received one case of water; for example, if your family consisted of four people, you would only be allotted four cases of water. If there were children in the family, the church was also handing out baby wipes. Additionally, we gave out water filters and filter replacements. After showering and washing their dishes, residents of Flint must use bottled water for a final rinse.

There were many people who came to pick up water for their neighbors or came with their neighbors because they didn’t have a car, had too large of a family, or were too old to carry the water themselves. Many of the people who arrived had broken-down, beat-up cars. Some had nothing more than thin plastic taped to where their window should be. Many cars had small infant children in the backseat. As I stood there, in below freezing temperatures, with my hands going numb, even with the help of hand warmers, I realized how much we take water for granted. Michigan is surrounded by the Great Lakes; we shouldn’t ever have to worry about whether or not we would have enough water for something as simple as drinking.

It warmed my heart to know that not only were the people of Michigan helping out Flint, but people from our neighboring states were lending a hand as well. While waiting for our volunteers to return with the second load of water, a van full of sorority girls from Indiana pulled up to drop off boxes of gallons of water. This was just one of many donations. We met people from Chicago, who drove through white-out conditions, and some even came from Ohio! As soon as the garage was depleted, it was refilled again thanks to these people. Once our volunteers returned with our second load of water, we were able to form a much more efficient assembly line. During the slow periods, we came up with creative ways to stay warm, like forming a penguin huddle, alternating who was in the middle. The church also provided us with snacks such as, doughnuts, rolls, sandwiches and, my personal favorite, hot chicken noodle soup.

Our event was so successful, and our volunteers enjoyed helping out so much, that we have decided to extend our Flint water drive and plan to go back up with even more water sometime in March, hopefully with more clubs from Grand Rapids Community College involved this time.

To donate to the Asian Student Union’s water drive, email Theresa Tran at [email protected].

Photos courtesy of the Asian Student Union at GRCC.
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