A storage building near Big Piney Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Sampson County is filling with water fast — the bottled variety, for people some 800 miles away who desperately need it.
The churches of Western Union Missionary Baptist Association, which includes 15 Missionary Baptist churches in the Sampson community, have teamed with Liberty Praise Center in Sanford as part of a huge effort to bring clean bottled water and wet wipes to the people of Flint, Mich.
Through Wednesday, little more than a week into the Western Union’s effort, eight of the churches had donated toward the cause, with the other seven expected to very soon. Others have chipped in as well.
“This need is great for the citizens in Flint,” said the Rev. Bernard Spates, 2nd Vice Moderator for Western Union Missionary Baptist Association and associate minister at Big Piney Grove Missionary Baptist Church.
Spates spearheaded the Sampson effort on the heels of a large undertaking by the Rev. Jace Cox, pastor at Liberty Praise Center in Sanford. Cox started the project for Flint, an outreach through which water is being collected from dozens upon dozens of sites throughout the region, collected in Sanford and trucked up to Flint.
On Jan. 31, as word of the Cox’s effort started to spread through various media outlets, Spates brought it up to his association and its 15 members, including Western Union moderator Rev. Sedrick Bryant and the Rev. Freddie Herring, who is 1st Vice Moderator.
“I was looking at it that morning,” Spates said. “We had an executive board meeting and I brought the idea about what Jace Cox was doing. As a unit, they all said yes. They were excited and there has been excitement ever since. People outside our circle have even asked if they can help. Of course they can. We want them to.”
D.E. Bryant, who owns a trucking company out of Roseboro, is a member of the Western Union Missionary Baptist Association and volunteered his time and trailer to the cause. He will transport the water to Sanford so it can get on the next truck to Michigan.
“He’s going to do that at no charge,” Spates said, offering his thanks.
Following the Jan. 31 meeting, church association members started collecting water just days later, on Feb. 2. Little more than a week in, there has been a tremendous outpouring.
“We have 250 cases so far,” said Spates’ wife Pamela of the water collected. Another 80 cases of wet wipes, most of which have about 1,000 apiece, have also been amassed. That number could easily double before the noon Friday deadline comes.
There are some outside churches and everyone is invited and encouraged to donate.
“Any churches that want to contribute can,” said Spates. “It’s not just churches contributing, but we have members bringing donations too — water, money. We’ll accept it. We had somebody come by yesterday who brought 10 cases.”
The outreach goes beyond Western Union Missionary Baptist Association, which is just trying to do its part.
“Other associations are donating too,” said Spates. “It’s been ongoing.”
He said many are excited to be able to rally around a worthy cause and bring relief to those who need it.
“We’re excited, really excited,” said Spates. “Flint is a community and this is what we’re supposed to do as churches anyway is give. Anybody that is able to give we encouraged them to give.”
Flint is under a state of emergency because of lead-tainted water. Outside experts also have suggested a link between the Flint River and a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that included 87 cases across a single county over a year and a half and resulted in nine deaths.
The city’s water supply was switched from the Detroit system to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure in 2014, when Flint was under state emergency financial management. It was an interim measure while a new pipeline to Lake Huron is being built. But the improperly treated river water caused lead to leach from old pipes.
“And they’ve been knowing about it,” Spates said of the contamination. “The water is brown.”
“It looks like tea,” Pamela noted. “Babies have to bathe in that. Everybody has to have good water, but especially babies.”
If consumed, lead can cause developmental delays and learning disabilities. Flint has since moved back to the Detroit system; officials hope anti-corrosion chemicals will re-coat the pipes so it is safe to drink without filters within months. U.S. regulators say Michigan officials ignored federal advice to treat Flint water for corrosion-causing elements last year and delayed for months before telling the public about the health risks. State officials counter that while the state should have required Flint to treat its water, the EPA did not display appropriate urgency and allowed the problem to fester for months.
It is still an issue, and many communities like Sampson have pitched in to do what they can, partnering with others in the process. Western Union has engaged in similar outreach in this community before, including school supply and clothes drives, as well as others.
This is just another way to help another, even if that somebody lives a day away.
“We heard about it on the news,” Pamela Spates said of the Sanford outreach, “so we contacted them and asked if we could partner and bring water to them. We are trying to get the water to Sanford so it can get on the one they have going the first of next week to Flint. Anyone who wants to contribute.”
“We’re leaving out on Friday to Sanford to meet Dr. Jace Cox,” Rev. Spates remarked. “They can meet us before 1 p.m. Friday (at Big Piney Grove Church).”
The truck will be leaving to Sanford at 1 p.m. If any person, their church or their organization would like to donate water and wet wipes, call the Rev. Bernard Spates at home at 910-564-6797 or by cell at 910-590-6577.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.