Join The NonProfit Times: or Become a member

Subscribe: Print Publication or Newsletter

Stay connected.
Stay informed.

Flint’s Nonprofits Organizing Response To Lead Contamination

By Andy Segedin - February 4, 2016

The contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich., has spurred the local nonprofit community into action, both tailoring programming to the new needs of the city and managing donations from across the country.

Local organizations’ involvement in the crisis dates back to the fall, according to Jamie Gaskin, CEO of the United Way of Genesee County, when the local medical community confirmed significant amounts of lead in the city’s tap water. Questions concerning the quality of the city’s tap water dated back to the spring of 2014, according to multiple reports, when the city switched its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to the Flint River.

The local United Way has stepped up its efforts in two primary ways. One, it helps fund the local access 2-1-1 phone system and call centers. The centers typically field between 100 and 200 calls per day, but have seen an uptick to 800 to 1,200 per day during the crisis. The United Way of Genesee County has also focused on capacity building, raising funds to sponsor the work of other organizations. About $1.1 million has been raised as of the end of January, according to Gaskin.

Keeping fundraising momentum will be key in the coming months, Gaskin said. Flint switched back to DWSD water several months ago, but it typically takes about six months for water to return to normal levels after a switch. “Although we’re in emergency-response mode, we really want to think about the long-term,” Gaskin said.

A focus on the future led to the creation of the Flint Child Health & Development Fund, according to Kathi Horton, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. The fund was started in response to the local health community identifying the need for flexible resources for impacted children and families over the next two decades. The fund has raised about $500,000 from 3,000 donations since being created a few weeks ago, according to Horton.

The foundation has yet to establish a goal for the fund, but it is clear that significant progress will need to be made. “We know that this response over a 20-year period is going to require millions of dollars, not thousands of dollars,” Horton said.

The Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s mission-related focuses include healthy food access, literacy and strengthening neighborhoods. About 40 percent of the city’s population was living in poverty prior to the water crisis, Horton said. A continued focus moving forward will be using the attention the water crisis has received to highlight other inequities, as well as preparing to move forward after the media spotlight dies down.

Water on trucks, boots on the ground

Flint-area organizations have met on a weekly basis to gauge ongoing need and to coordinate efforts, according to Bill Goodwill, business manager of The Salvation Army in Genesee County. Federal, state, municipal, education, health and religious entities have all participated.

Local pipe-fitter unions have also lent their support along with a car dealership that has provided use of its mechanical bay for water storage. “The water is coming in 15, 16, 17 semi-trailer loads at a time,” Goodwill said, adding that recycling will likely be a future challenge for the community to face.

Kara Ross, vice president of the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, estimated that 1.4 million bottles of water have been donated. The food bank has distributed 21 semi-trucks full of water per week, each capable of hauling 18 pallets. The increased need has led to the food bank switching over to a seven-day-per-week operation, as opposed to its typical five-day schedule plus Saturday mornings.

“I think the community worked really well together to determine where their strengths are,” Ross said. “As a food bank, our distribution and logistics have lent themselves to play the role of a distributor of water.”

The food bank has, since 1981, distributed food to partner organizations in the region, providing nearly nine million pounds of fresh produce annually. Balancing water needs with its existing food distribution and nutrition education initiatives will be particularly important moving forward, Ross said, as produces’ vitamin content can help mitigate the harmful long-term effects of lead.

American Red Cross of East Central Bay has seen its role in helping the city’s residents evolve over the past few weeks, according to Tony Lasher, executive director. Initially, the Red Cross staff worked at points of distribution throughout the city and helped the state with its warehousing operations. Those responsibilities have since been taken over by the National Guard and state, respectively.

The Red Cross has continued its canvassing efforts, distributing water, filters and testing kits. Staff has also collaborated with the local United Way in processing volunteers. About 270 trained Red Cross members, 95 percent of them volunteers, have provided boots on the ground during the water crisis. Over 1,000 others have come off the street to lend a hand, Lasher said.


Sponsored Podcasts

Welcome to the Raise & Engage podcast, a filters-off series for nonprofit professionals hosted by Blackbaud's straight-shooting expert Danielle Johnson Vermenton. During this open-mic session, you’ll hear honest advice to help YOU do more for your cause.

Episode 6: The Power of ‘No’ at Work|| daniellejohnson-76

You have a job description, but on any given day, you're probably doing dozens of things outside the scope of that description. Combine that with the challenge of a fast-paced environment and the shifting priorities of funders, colleagues, and board members and it’s easy to fall short of doing your best. By being mindful of your limitations and capacity—and saying “no” when your plate is full—you can actually do more for your cause. In the sixth installment of the Raise and Engage podcast Danielle Johnson and Robin Anderson discuss the power of saying “no” at work.

Episode 5: Professional Development: Getting Un-Stuck|| daniellejohnson-76

In the most recent episode of Raise + Engage, Danielle is back with Brian Reich from little m media to discuss how nonprofit professionals can stay motivated and energized in their day-to-day roles. Brian shares his experience working with nonprofits and the lessons and tips he's learn from and shared with them over the years, including tips for avoiding a professional rut, creating forward momentum in your career and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you're considering making a career move or want to ensure you're on the right path, you won't want to miss this inspo-packed episode!

Episode 4: Apps and Hacks to Stay (Mostly) Sane || daniellejohnson-76

Episode 4: Apps and Hacks to Stay (Mostly) Sane, is all about tips, tricks and tools for sanity. Blackbaud’s own interactive product marketer, Julia Lenz, joins host Danielle Johnson to share some high tech. (and no tech.) productivity tips to help nonprofit professionals stay sane in the crazy world of philanthropy.

Tune in to hear:

  • Tips for how to spend the first 30 minutes of your day
  • The benefits of 15 minute meetings
  • Why notebooks are still relevant to a successful organization
  • Ideas for better managing your inbox
  • Why you should take lunch outside the box
  • ...and much more!
Don’t forget to visit the #NoFilterNonprofit Hub afterwards to download our newest tip sheet10 Productivity Hacks for Nonprofits.

Episode 3: Tech. Connection: Solutions, Strategy, and Staff || daniellejohnson-76

Episode 3: Tech. Connection: Solutions, Strategy, and Staff In episode 3 of the Raise + Engage podcast, Danielle Johnson is joined by Chris Geady and William DaSilva, two IT experts in the nonprofit space, to talk technology integration for NPOs: when you need it, when you don’t, and how to do it successfully.

Tune in to hear:

  • When to say NO to integration
  • How to set your strategic plan before even looking at technologies
  • Ways to get your entire team on board
  • The importance of identifying a project lead
  • The RFP process - how it should and should not go
And William shares a story about a nonprofit that may or may not have still been using a typewriter. You don't want to miss this one!

Episode 2: From Socially Awkward to Socially Awesome! || daniellejohnson-76

According to Danielle Johnson, straight-shooting host of the Raise + Engage podcast series, if your staff members aren’t the number one advocates for your cause on social media, you’re failing. In the most recent episode, Danielle is joined by Blackbaud’s own social media guru Madeline Turner to discuss overcoming social struggles and creating a social ambassador program at your organization. This entertaining and insightful duo dishes on the importance of making your social media presence human, making the case for a formal social program to leadership, how University of Michigan turned a one time social media campaign into a long term social program, and how Madeline's mom unknowingly became a social ambassador on #GivingTuesday.

Episode 1: Corporate Culture & Development: Shake It Up! || daniellejohnson-76

In the premiere episode of Raise & Engage, Danielle is joined by three straight-shooting nonprofit rock-stars: Jodi Smith of Sanford Health Systems, Veronica Brown of Chicago Public Library Foundation and Ali Burke of Southlake Regional Health Centre Foundation. The group talks organizational culture, problem employees, why its important to celebrate and how to shake things up this year and build a better more authentic team that gets stuff done!


Stay informed, catch latest trends in the nonprofit space.

Subscribe to Our Free Newsletter

No obligation, unsubscribe at anytime.

Success! Check your email inbox.

Follow Us On Twitter

NPT 2016 Buyers' Guide

Newsletter Sign-up

click here to return to the previous page