Donations of bottled water are pouring into Flint, Michigan from around the country. But they also need more gallon water, hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes.
"We need more sanitizer and baby wipes. Some people need distilled water," said Bill Quarles, General Superintendent of First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Flint, Michigan and Dean of Great Lake District Congress to a group of volunteers that traveled from Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. These days, he can easily work close to 80 hours a week making sure that water is available to Flint residents that do not have enough clean water for drinking, bathing, cleaning and cooking.
"Last Friday we had 400 cars...We'll put and leave water outside the building. Other churches are getting water, but not as much," he said.
At First Trinity, residents drive by to pick up water, care packages and, if they have small children, baby wipes. Picking up cases of free bottled water at the church seem as ordinary as stopping at the grocery store on the way home. The water station at First Trinity is open every Tuesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. A "while supplies last" notice is included on the fliers that go out to residents in the neighborhood.
Pastor of First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, Ezra Tillman, Jr., would like to see more coalition building among residents in Flint.
"I would like to see that the attention from across America will help us to come together to get something done, otherwise we are not in a capacity to really lead," he said. "We need to speak to residents to encourage them to respond to injustice."
Plans and construction are underway to replace the corroded pipelines in homes of residents in Flint, Michigan. For the past two years, residents have grappled with the effects of a decision made in April 2014 to switch their clean water supply from Lake Huron, technically the world's largest freshwater lake, to the less clean Flint River, in an effort to save money.
"Some parts of the area are a lot worse. It was bad. And the governor knew it was bad. Families are cooking with it, and some places are so bad they couldn't bathe in it. The inner city is most affected," said Ken Mayer, a resident who works at the YMCA of Greater Flint
In an effort to familiarize volunteers from around the country with individuals who are directly affected by the water crisis, First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church sends teams out into communities, to senior homes and to daycares to deliver water to individuals and families.
At one home, a young woman answered the door with a small child in hand.
"It takes half a case of water to bathe my smallest son," she said as she accepted a case of water.
A female resident who has lived in Flint since 1969 said she stopped drinking the water two years ago. The water turned brown when she turned on the faucet and smelled like rotten eggs, yet she still cooked and bathed it. Now, she only uses bottled water.
"I use two cases of 32 bottles a day, and there's five of us in the house," she said. She uses a filter on her shower, and insists that it works, despite sources stating otherwise. "I have one in the sink but the water runs so slow that it takes 15 to 20 minutes to get a glass of water," she said with a laugh. While some have left Flint altogether, she has no plans to leave.
"There's been a lot of miscommunication, especially from the state level down. So you have the governor, who is saying that based off of the information that he has received from different entities...the water is safe to bathe in," said Catrina Tillman, wife of Pastor Tillman at First Trinity. "But locally, we're seeing the rashes on people's skin. We're seeing kids that are being affected by it...Everyone knows it's not safe to drink. But they're still using it in terms of cleaning, cooking, bathing and so that's why we have kind of shifted our focus here at First Trinity."
The City of Flint is comprised of nine different wards that have been affected differently by the switch in water supply. Housed in one of the hardest hit wards is a church that, for some time now, has served as a receiving center for water donations coming from around the country, and as a water distribution center for residents in need. As political as the situation in Flint, Michigan has become, members of First Trinity just want to help the local people.
"We're still collecting bottled water but we've moved on to what we call Phase 2. And that's where we are asking for gallon water instead of the individual bottled water," said Mrs. Tillman.
Donations of gallon water, Clorox wipes, baby wipes and hand sanitizer can be sent to First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church at 1226 Beach Street, Flint, Michigan 48502.