Help From Afar

The basement of St. Michael’s Catholic Church was bustling.

People from all over had gathered to be part of the relief efforts in Flint. Rarely do communities show such a sense of camaraderieclass, race, creed, or language didn’t matter. On this day, the human spirit was exactly what we always wish it could be: strong. Social workers, neighborhood volunteers, and travelers had come together. Many spoke Spanish, a crucial skill in this often forgotten city.

Michael Hood, among the biggest movers in the relief efforts, was fielding calls, determining what help the people of Flint needed most. A story made its way back from the field.

A young woman answered the door when canvassers arrived. She was in tears. She spoke little English, and knew the water wasn’t safe. She had a three-month-old baby. Early on in the crisis, residents were told to boil their water, so boil she did.

Boiling water tainted with lead makes the problem worse.

She didn’t give the water to her child, but she was breastfeeding. Unknowingly, she was putting her child in danger.

When government agencies passed out “pamphlets”they were 24-pages longthey sent none in Spanish.

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Never is the need for communication greater than when a child, completely at the mercy of her environment, is in danger. It tears at the soul.

Suheoll Diaz and a group of volunteers from Omel-US had arrived from Chicago the night before. Many are native Spanish speakers.

“Just seeing all the [Facebook] posts and all the media feeds, I just wanted to do something,” she said. The group had made the six-hour drive to deliver water, with a semi-truck filled to the brim. “It was pretty incredible. I think there were over 2,000 packs of water.”

Daniel Gonzalez arrived with Diaz around 7:00 the night before. Originally, they were headed to another church, but when they arrived, it could not accommodate volunteers. There is never a shortage of options when delivering aid here. After falling around, they found another open church.

“We see water as a human right,” Gonzalez explained. “There should be no denial of basic human services to people just because you can’t provide certain state documentation.”

The group was well aware that for the city’s undocumented population, the crisis poses an extra risk. Rumors have been swirling that water deliveries would turn into immigration raids. Many now fear that opening their door will mean having to give up their dreams of joining the Melting Pot.

For others, budgeting to buy clean water, on top of paying exorbitant bulls for the water they can’t use, means difficult choices. Omel-US is ready to help.

“We’re working on gathering different supplies … baby wipes, hand sanitizer, diapers … that’s where we’re going to be focusing our energy,” Gonzalez said.

If there is one thing that’s certain, it’s that this problem is not going away quickly. Residents need more education about how to mitigate the damage, but they need it in a way they can understand. The need reaches beyond water bottles. The generous hearts of people from across the country can change the story for thousands of people. How will you help?

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