Two students helped teacher Peggy Luebs unload three cases of bottled water from her car, each containing 40bottles she bought on special at Costco. Then they watched as she filled in a hallway chart showing her class’ latest contribution to the water drive at Lincoln Developmental Center for the people of Flint.
Ansel Robinson, a classroom support staffer at the school for students with severe multiple impairments and autism, watched as bottles donated by students, staff and families piled up. As pastor of a small church in Flint, he knows how much it will mean to residents there.
How to help
A number of West Michigan schools, churches and businesses are accepting donations of bottled water to deliver to Flint, including Art Van Furniture and Sleep Doctor locations.
All Pallets and Cases of Water over 100:
Loose water cases (non-pallet and fewer than 100 cases)
Monetary donations can be sent payable to Flint Community Schools Water Fund, 923 East Kearsley St., Business Office, attention Lori Mochty, Flint, MI 48503, or to United Way
Is your district collecting water for Flint residents, or helping out in other ways?
SNN wants to know about it! Email us and let us know what you’re doing and how to contact you.
“They are feeling disenfranchised, they are feeling dismayed,” Robinson said of Flint families reeling from a lead-contaminated water supply. “They are greatly concerned about the health of their children. Of course, they’re angry.”
But the donations from Lincoln Developmental Center and other area schools gave him faith that children like these would help the people of Flint through their public-health crisis.
“We’re fulfilling the role God has given us in collecting this water and sharing it with the community of Flint,” said Robinson, whose church will deliver his school’s donations to the Flint Fire Department. “It is providing them with a sense of hope and reassurance that God’s working behind the scenes.”
Other schools are working to deliver clean water to Flint while serving as drop-off sites along with churches and other agencies. The water drives provide students and families facing their own challenges an opportunity to help others, educators say.
“They can learn to realize while it’s great to get an education, it’s equally if not greater to realize you’re part of something – you’re part of a larger community, you’re part of doing what’s right,” said Andrew Alvesteffer, principal of Grand Rapids’ Sibley Elementary School, which is collecting water for a Flint elementary school.
♥Local Schools Rally
Local schools rallied behind the people of Flint even as Gov. Rick Snyder apologized in his State of the State speech for his administration’s failures in responding to the contamination and the decisions that led to it. The state has said at least 43 Flint residents, 23 of them younger than 6, have been found to have elevated lead levels in their blood. Health officials say lead poisoning in children can lead to developmental delays, lower IQs and learning difficulties.
As news of the crisis has spread, some Kent County schools – and individual students – went into action.
After her mom talked to her about the water problem, Scarlette Liesenfelder came up with a solution: “I just said, ‘why don’t we take some of our water to them?’ So we did,” said the Thornapple Kellogg McFall Elementary first-grader.
She and her mom, Macenzie Smallwood, delivered about 20 cases of water a couple weeks ago. But after Scarlette saw how people had to line up to get water and could only have one case per family, she had another question for her mom: Could they come back next week with more water? Scarlette asked her classmates to help, and donations overflowed to first-graders.
As word spread, the entire community got involved. A moving van, truck and trailer were donated to deliver a second load of water.
McFall Principal Jon Washburn said he was thrilled with the idea of getting students and TK families involved.
“She’s doing it because it’s the right thing to do,” Washburn said. “She’s not looking for attention at all. It’s a great thing and it shows that anyone, no matter how old they are, can make a difference.”
Student to Student
Enthusiasm spread quickly as well at Sibley Elementary of Grand Rapids Public Schools. Families there are financially challenged, with 97 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch. Still, bottles of water poured in after school leaders initiated a water drive.
“I did it because they need water to drink,” said fifth-grader Jason Picon, who spent money he’d gotten for a Christmas gift on two packages of water.
Other Sibley students, parents and community partners also are bringing water by the jug and the case for students at Flint’s Eisenhower Elementary School, whose families face similar challenges as Sibley’s. Its Pathways to Potential program is a statewide initiative modeled after the Kent School Services Network, which provides on-site social and medical services to Sibley and other Kent County schools.
Given their own needs, it helps Sibley’s students to help others, said Rachel Tommy, a KSSN community-school coordinator who led the effort along with Abbey VanHoeven, a success coach.
“I think it’s really empowering, because they’re often on the receiving end, getting help from the community,” Tommy said, adding it’s good “for them to be able to be on the giving end. It also helps them see beyond the community of Grand Rapids.”
Some staffers took it as an opportunity to teach students about the Flint crisis and what it would be like to go without water. It made an impact on first-grader Maddison Waters.
“We want to help the child,” Maddison said. “They need drinks to survive. The water is turning brown and yellow.”
“They got poisoned,” said her classmate Keith Hudson III.
Sibley is also getting donations from community partners such as SpartanNash. Likewise, the community is rallying around Sparta Area Schools as they also collect water for Eisenhower Elementary.
The idea stemmed from Martin Luther King Day assemblies focused on helping others, orchestrated by Sparta ElementarySchool teacher Megan Taylor. The school annually commits to helping others during a “Spread the Love” drive between MLK Day and Valentine’s Day, and this year students overwhelmingly wanted to help Flint residents, Taylor said.
Churches, the Rotary Club and others joined in, and trucks to deliver the water have been donated by Fixture Finders and UEI Inc. More than 3,000 bottles of water have been collected so far.
At Lincoln Developmental Center, several businesses have pledged to help as well as people from Kalamazoo and Chicago, since a TV report on the school’s drive spread on social media.
Donations were doubling by the day, said teacher Liesha Crawford, who launched the effort after talking with Robinson about Flint’s troubles.
“We thought it would be such a good thing for our students to learn about giving back,” Crawford said. “It’s building a sense of community in our whole school.”
Like Sibley, the school is staging a friendly competition among classrooms. Tallying the totals helps students with math, Crawford said, and noted one student carried water on his walker as part of his daily exercise.
“They know something exciting is happening, even though they might not know the scope of it,” she added. “It brings to light no matter who you are, you can help. … If our kids can do this, anybody can.”
Lincoln Developmental Center, Crahen Ave. NE, 862 will be accepting donations from families and the public until Feb. 2. Collections at Sibley Elementary, 943 Sibley St. NW, continue until Jan. 29, and at all Sparta Area Schools until Feb. 12.
Adrian Hirsch and Julie Makarewicz contributed to this report