Members of UAW Local 182 made the holiday season a little brighter for some residents of Flint, Michigan, delivering more than 700 cases of water to this community that has endured years of suffering from lead poisoning. Employees of Livonia Transmission Plant used seven Ford vehicles to bring clean water to Bethel United Methodist Church, Slidell Senior Center and a local fire station in Flint.
The idea originated with manufacturing technician Kirsten Faison. Everyone expected the fundraiser would get an average turnout – that they’d meet their goal in a few weeks, but it only took about 10 days before UAW leadership ran out of space and asked employees to stop donating cases of water.
Faison, along with nightshift employees Jill Yurkovich, Freddie Clayton Jr., Christie Buckner, Larry Griffin, Barbara Cooper, Tracie Wharton and Petrina Boynton – working on just four to five hours of sleep – used five F-150s, an F-250 Super Duty and a Transit van to transport water to Flint.
Buckner and Clayton Jr., who are married, used their own truck to make the delivery. “It was a good cause and we wanted to help,” said Clayton Jr. “Water is a right, especially when you’re paying for it,” added Buckner.
The weary drivers were energized when they pulled up to Bethel United Methodist Church. Boynton recalls hearing, “Thank you, God” from one of the churchgoers, and said it was humbling to see so many people cherish the water most of us take for granted. Clayton Jr. said one woman cried because she thought she might not have clean water over the holidays.
At the next stop, Slidell Senior Center, residents lined up outside with shopping carts and tried to take cases of water to their rooms on their walkers. Faison and the other volunteers ensured the elderly residents that they would all get their fair share.
As hard as it is to imagine, even the fire stations in this stricken community don’t yet have clean water, with first responders still fighting fires with water chock-full of lead. The Flint firefighters couldn’t bear to see the exhausted volunteers make another stop, so they met in the middle at a local church.
“I know firemen and how hard their job is,” said Yurkovich. “They’re continuously dehydrated, for one thing. Yet they were giving away the water we were donating to them.” One firefighter gave away the last three bottles to a woman so she had clean water to mix with her baby’s formula.
The holiday fundraiser was such a hit, both with the volunteers and with the recipients, that the members of Local 182 are planning to do it again this year, though they believe they’ll need a semitruck to haul all the cases of water they collect this time around.