It’s no secret that Flint has been the subject of much attention lately. For years, any attention the city has gotten has been mostly negative. Now, while all eyes are locked on the water crisis, residents can hope that the regular press coverage will apply extra pressure to finally bring about change. But attention in the press is fleeting.
As attention on the issue has begun to wane at the national level, residents are depending on each other and the help they still receive from other areas to work through this.
Driving through the city, it’s not hard to find a passing truck with a bed full of water. Restaurants advertise their “unleaded” water. Signs line busy streets, directing passersby to the nearest water pick-up location.
One group, OMEL-US, has visited Flint on several occasions. Recently, we sat down with them again to hear about their dedication to the area. Their support has stood out in particular because it has been unwavering. Add in the 12-hour round-trip journey to Flint from their native Chicago, and their work is even more impressive. Travel time alone amounts to a full day’s work, just to help strangers in need. Their hearts have gone out to all, but they are especially concerned with those among the most vulnerable in the community: the Latino population.
“Many of the Latinos here in Flint are not being as [well] represented, as much as we would want … We try to bring light to the Latino community, but at the same time, we are trying to help the community as a whole because this problem doesn’t see race or color. This is a problem for everyone,” said one member of the group.
On this, their fourth visit, OMEL-US did not bring water, focusing instead on advocacy as they work on the logistics of their next water delivery. They plan to bring at least 500 cases of water the next time they come to Flint.
Going forward, the group will be focusing on creating a long-term plan to help. Surely, such long, frequent trips are not sustainable without a strategy. Relying on their own community to help support their trips has allowed the group to do so much already, but as with the press attention, support can only last so long when those donating do not have first-hand knowledge of the situation.
“From the outside, I can tell you this much, people cannot imagine how bad the situation is until you are actually here,” Daniel Hernandez, group president and co-founder, said.
At first, the group thought their first trip would be the only one, but after arriving, that quickly changed. They became passionate about making strides against the long-term struggle residents will face for years.
“Every day is different,” explained Suheoll Diaz, “new information comes in and we try to adjust to that and find other solutions.” Among them, OMEL-US is currently seeking 501(c)(3) status, which would allow for tax-deductible donations, adding another reason for donors to contribute. When the water crisis eventually does come to a close, they have no plans to stop their work. OMEL-US has vowed to do everything they can to help when someone needs it.
For Flint, it’s the generosity and kindness from people like this that have made a lasting impression. Flint is not alone, and after being forgotten for decades, it finally has center stage, if only for a moment.