A disgusting shade of orange-brown. That’s how Jeremiah West described the state of the water in Flint, Michigan. So the 10-year-old homeschooler from Greece decided to do something about it.
West and his brother Joshua, 8, who already run their own after-school program called Change Academy at local learning centers, got their friends to knock on doors and ask for donations of bottled water and water filters to send to Flint residents who are in a state of emergency.
Car after car dropped off cases of water at a Rochester credit union Saturday, where volunteers and friends helped load them into moving trucks, which will haul the water to Michigan sometime next week.
The water will be packed into a full-size school bus before being shipped off to symbolize the boys’ mission to help Flint’s students, who are particularly susceptible to lead levels in the city’s water.
Flint’s water supply was switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014 to cut costs, causing the city’s pipes to leach toxic levels of lead into residents’ drinking water. Thousands of children have been potentially exposed to lead, which can cause brain and nerve damage.
“We have an abundance of community volunteers, and we’re just so thankful to the community for giving us all this water and supporting us,” said Jeremiah.
Mom Olivia West was mission control on Saturday, directing traffic in and out of the parking lot and marshaling groups of unloading volunteers.
“When (my sons) heard about Flint, they said they wanted to help,” Olivia West said, adding that the boys started working on the idea only 10 days ago.
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A church in Flint agreed to be a distribution center once the water reaches the area. Local company Cook Moving Systems donated movers and trucks to load donations Saturday and transport it all to Michigan next week.
Thousands of pounds of water had been donated at the event’s halfway point Saturday. High school students from the University of Rochester’s Healthcare Technology Youth Apprenticeship Program lent some of their community service hours to the project.
“They’re always so cheerful — they’re always the main ones out here saying, ‘let’s do it,’” said program manager Janice Holland.
Other cities in western and central New York also moved to help Flint —True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo collected and sent a truckload of bottled water on Friday, with two other truckloads to follow.
Utica radio host Bill Keeler and the Utica Boilermaker, meanwhile, are conducting a bottled water drive.
Community involvement is not a new trend for the West family — they also help facilitate donations for the homeless around the holidays, said volunteer Nerissa Ashford of Chili.
“How many 10 year olds are thinking of these kinds of ideas?” she said. “This is something you really have to have in your heart.”
Not only is it unusual for elementary students to mobilize a community to action, but their work will directly affect the health of fellow children and families, said Janet Barclay of Rochester, who dropped off a few cases of water after hearing about the event in the newspaper.
“In America, we let a town get poisoned,” said Barclay. “But in America, we come together and we help each other.”