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Grassroots effort to stem Flint water crisis gains momentum

As government scrambles to respond to lead contamination, an array of groups step up to offer relief

As federal and state officials scramble to respond to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where the water system has exposed thousands of people to dangerous levels of lead, musicians, former prisoners, and religious groups have formed part of a grassroots effort to provide bottled water to city residents.

Church coalitions in Tennessee and Wisconsin have collected bottled water to send to partner parishes in Flint, the Christian Science Monitor reported on Monday. The Wisconsin group delivered 72,000 containers of water last week, and more bottled water is expected to arrive in the coming days.

The Muslim community in Detroit and Dearborn has also donated about 30,000 water bottles through the London-based charity “Who is Hussain?” and the Red Cross.

“As the Prophet Muhammad taught us, ‘Your neighbor comes before your own household.’ As a resident of Detroit, this is not only a Flint problem, this is a Michigan problem and I feel obligated to help to the best of my ability,” organization volunteer Mohammed Almawla told British publication The Independent.

About 70 Michigan National Guard soldiers have been deployed to the city, located 66 miles northwest of Detroit, to hand out water. Additionally, federal officials declared a state of emergency on Saturday. That frees some $5 million and directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate the distribution of water, filters and water test kits.

But Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has said the state needs some $55 million to repair damaged lead water pipes, and $41 million to pay for several months of water distribution, testing, and filters, according to local media.

Last month, Snyder declared a state of emergency, apologized for the crisis, and accepted the resignation of the head of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Dan Wyant. But the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice are still investigating possible violations of federal law.

In April 2014, at the request of state emergency managers, Flint changed its water source from Lake Huron to Flint River, in a move seen as a cost-cutting measure. Last October, elevated levels of lead were found in the city’s water. Flint, a working-class city of about 100,000, has a predominantly African-American population. Officials have confirmed elevated blood-lead levels have been found in children in Flint. And health officials have reported a spike in cases of Legionnaires' disease in the city.

Since October, Michigan residents have criticized state officials for what they say is a slow response to the crisis, which caused the level of lead in some children to double since the water source change. In response to the crisis, the state has purchased 83,000 cases of water, 115,000 water filters and 69,000 water-testing kits since Jan. 5, according to Snyder's office.

But that effort has been blasted as insufficient. 

In recent days, musicians and former prisoners have joined the grassroots effort to provide relief.

Philadelphia-based rapper Meek Mill said on Monday that he would donate $50,000 for water for Flint after a fan reached out to him and rapper 50 Cent on Twitter.

The performer Cher has also been outspoken on social media. In December she called for Snyder's arrest and “execution by firing squad.” 

Last month, Cher partnered with bottled water company Icelandic Glacial to send 181,000 bottles of water to Flint. The company said it would match the singer’s donation starting on Monday, according to a press release.

“This is a tragedy of staggering proportion and shocking that it’s happening in the middle of our country,” Cher said last week.

North Carolina’s Oskar Blues Brewery, through its Can’d Aid Foundation, said on Monday that it has teamed up with North Carolina-based Ball Corp., a metal beverage packaging company, to send 50,000 cans of water to Flint residents.

Meanwhile, a group of former prisoners in Yspilanti, located 65 miles south of Flint, have collected and distributed several hundred cases of water for Flint residents, according to Michigan Live.

Husain Carter, a case manager at the My Brother’s Keeper shelter in Flint said their donation was much needed.

“And imagine that,” Carter told Michigan Live. “Ex-cons are more willing to help quicker than the government.”

With wire services

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