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Churches collect thousands of bottles of water for Flint

Maretta Brown-Miller whips a five-pound hula hoop around her hips for 10 to 15 minutes at a stretch in front of a television set at her home in the Austin neighborhood — a workout, she notes, that will ultimately benefit the people of Flint, Mich.

Brown-Miller, 54, harnessed her hip-swirling stamina Monday morning to help lift dozens of 25-pound cases of water into a truck that, later Monday morning, set out from New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington, to drive four hours to reach the folks in Flint, whose drinking water has been contaminated by elevated levels of lead.

“We need to get involved and not just sit back and wait for the government to do something,” said Brown-Miller, who works for the Chicago Park District.

Seven congregations in Chicago and the suburbs collected more than 1,000 cases of water from parishioners, said Rev. Marshall Hatch, New Mount Pilgrim’s pastor, who oversaw the operation Monday morning.

“The people here, their hearts are breaking for the kids in Flint who have literally been poisoned by lead in the water,” Hatch said Monday.

“And they identify with the people in Flint who have been ill-served by government and have suffered from oppression.”

The water will be delivered to a church in Flint and distributed to residents in need of clean water to drink and bathe in, Hatch said.

Flint’s tap water had come from Lake Huron, and was delivered to Flint via Detroit. But the city switched in 2014 to a cheaper source — water from the Flint River. But that polluted water was inadequately treated, triggering complaints from residents about the water’s color and smell. Officials repeatedly told residents the water was safe, but tests later revealed the untreated water had corroded pipes, which allowed lead to leach into the water.

The city switched back to water from Lake Huron, but with that water also traveling through now-corroded pipes, the threat of lead remains.

“It’s not just about Chicago,” said Brown-Miller, before catching a case of water that teetered from the rear end of a 24-foot truck. “This is a big world and we have to get involved.”