Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Vice President Barbara McGowan speaks to a resident of Flint while visiting the city.

On Saturday, Feb. 6, I boarded a bus at 5:00 a.m. with about a dozen bleary-eyed volunteers from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) to bring bottled water and a financial donation to the struggling people of Flint, Michigan.

Going to Flint to help with their water needs was a really good fit for us. The District has worked 127 years to keep the source of our drinking water, Lake Michigan, clean. So to know that there are people suffering so close to home is a shame.

The effort started about a week earlier when we learned about the water issue. The District Credit Union, Executive Director, Board of Commissioners and staff started a collection, hoping to raise enough money to purchase a full truckload of water for about $3,200; this would provide 18 pallets or 36,000 bottles of water. Not only did we raise enough for the semi-load of water, but we had $3,000 left over to contribute to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.

We left the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant at 5:00 a.m. for the five-hour trip. We arrived by the 11:00 a.m. meeting time (Flint is on Eastern Standard Time and an hour ahead of us.) Also arriving were President Mariyana Spyropoulos and Commissioner Kari Steele.

We met with the Food Bank’s Director of Development, Cathy Blankenship, who told us about the hardship families are currently experiencing. I showed Cathy the list of five fire stations given to me by Allison Fore, MWRD’s Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Officer. I asked Cathy which served the most needed residents and she identified Fire Station #1 located on 5th Street. That was the station I chose to distribute the water from.

Cathy and other area residents were surprised we would come “all the way” from Chicago to bring them water and donations. They didn’t realize that there were people who cared about them. In fact, everyone we spoke to was very gracious and grateful that we came that distance to help them out in their time of need. They had a lot of big smiles. As the semi was unloading, we gave Cathy seven large cards signed by district staff. She said they would proudly display them in their facility.

I can’t imagine not having access to fresh, clean water. It makes me think about how blessed and grateful I am. We are very fortunate to live near one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world with infrastructure that is capable of delivering it to us safely. While many Chicago pipes are 100 year old and are in need of upgrades, at least we know that they reliably get safe drinking water to us whenever we want it at a minimal cost.

I am so grateful to the employees who helped with this effort and send them many, many thanks on behalf of the people of Flint for giving up their Saturday.  To those employees and volunteers who made the trip to Flint, this could not have happened without you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart:

Paul Jacobs | Steve and Amy Carmody | Lawrence Taylor | Brandon and Niyah Reynolds | Adam Batinic | Lauren Banks | Karl von Heimburg | Dorothy Grant | Sharon Cannon | Keith Zirbes | John Joiner | Pat Thomas.

I also want to thank each and every District staff member who donated and the Credit Union for taking charge of the collection. Also, a special thanks goes to District staff member Sharie Sopcak-Phelan, her daughter, Lexxie Phelan and Mike Kohl for collecting the extra cases of water that we brought to the Fire Station. I am always very proud of our work but I am especially proud of our commissioners and staff who came together to help others in their time of need.